Page images
PDF
EPUB

nor can one be carried to perfection, without being accompanied, in some degree, with the other. The same age, which produces great philosophers and politicians, renowned generals and poets, usually abounds with skilful weavers and ship carpenters. We cannot reasonably expect that a piece of woollen cloth will be wrought to perfection in a nation that is ignorant of astronomy, or where ethics are neglected.

The spirit of the age affects all the artists ; and the minds of men being once roused from their lethargy, and put into a fermentation, turn themselves on all sides, and carry improvements into every art and science. Profound ignorance is totally banished, and men enjoy the privilege of rational creatures, to think as well as to act, to cultivate the pleasures of the mind as well as those of the body.

The more these refined arts advance, the more sociable men become: nor is it possible that when enriched with science, and possessed of a fund of conversation, they should be content to remain in solitude, or live with their fellow citizens in that distant manner which is peculiar to ignorant and barbarous nations. They flock into eities; love to receive and communicate knowledge; to show their wit or their breeding; their taste in conversation or living, in clothes or furniture. Curiosity allures the wise; vanity the foolish; and pleasure both. Particular clubs and societies are every where formed; both sexes meet in an easy and sociable manner; and the tempers of men as well as their behaviour refine apace. So that besides the improvements which they receive from knowledge and the libe. ral arts, it is impossible but they must feel an increase of humanity from the very habit of conversing together, and contributing to each others pleasure and entertainment. Thus industry, knowledge, and humanity, are linked together by an indissoluble chain, and are found from experience as well as reason, to be peculiar to the more polished, and what are commonly denominated the more luxurious ages.

But industry, knowledge, and humanity, are not advantageous in private life alone; they diffuse their beneficial influence on the public, and render the government as great and flourishing as they make individuals happy and prosperous. The increase and consumption of all commodities which serve to the ornament and pleasure of life, are advantageous to society, because, at the same time that they multiply those innocent gratifications to individuals, they are a kind of storehouse of labour, which in the exigencies of a state, may be turned to the public service. In a

nation, where there is no demand for such superfluities, men sink into indolence, lose all enjoyment of life, and are useless to the public, which cannot maintain or support its fleets and armies from the industry of such slothful members.

This industry is much promoted by the know. ledge, inseparable from ages of art, and refinement; as on the other hand, this knowledge enables the public to make the best advantage of the industry of its subjects. Laws, order, police, discipline, these can never be carried to any

de. gree of perfection, before human reason has refined itself by exercise, and, by an application to the more vulgar arts, at least, of commerce and manufacture. Can we expect that a government will be well modelled by a people who know not how to make a spinning wheel, or to employ a loom with advantage ? Not to mention that all ignorant ages are infested with superstition, which throws the governmeni off its bias, and disturbs men in the pursuit of their interest and happiness.

Knowledge in the arts of government naturally begets mildness and moderation, by instructing men in the advantages of humane maxims above rigour and severity, which drive subjects into rebellion, and make submission impractica

ble, by cutting off all hopes of pardon. When the tempers of men are softened as well as their knowledge improved, this hunianity appears still more conspicuous, and is the chief characteristic which distinguishes a civilized age from times of barbarity and ignorance.

Factions are then less inveterate, revolutions less tragical, authority less severe, and seditions less frequent. Even foreign wars abate of their cruelty; and after the field of battle where honour and interest steel men against compassion as well as fear, the combatants divest themselves of the brute, and resume the man.

To declaim against present times, and magnify the virtue of remote ancestors, is a propensity almost inherent in human nature; and, as the sentiments and opinions of civilized ages alone are transmitted to posterity, hence it is that we meet with so many severe judgments pronounced against luxury, and even science; and hence it is, that, at present, we give so ready an assent to them. But the fallacy is easily perceived by comparing different nations that are contemporaries, where we both judge more impartially, and can set in opposition those manners with which we are sufficiently acquainted. Treachery and cruelty, the most pernicious and most odious of all vices, seem peculiar to uncivilized ages; and by

the refined Greeks and Romans were ascribed to all the barbarous nations which surrounded them. They might justly, therefore, have presumed, that their own ancestors so highly celebrated, possessed no greater virtues, and were as much inferior to their posterity in honour and humanity, as in taste and science. An antient Frank or Saxon may be highly extolled; but I believe every man would think his life or fortune much less secure in the hands of a Moor or Tartar, than in those of a French or English gentleman, the rank of men the most civilized in the most civilized nations.

ESSAY 37.

PLEASURE.

(Collier.)

THAT Pleasure, exactly considered, is an advantage, must be granted by the most severe philosophy. It is the principal purpose of nature, and the sole object of inclination. Without

« PreviousContinue »