Page images
PDF
EPUB

in nature, but are artificial, and the results of necessity, as a check to human passions.

It would appear, therefore, that morality, in its pure state, is inherent in the constitution of man. It may be said, in one sense, to consist in the fitness of things; because every thing that the Author of Nature has formed is fit and perfect, in relation to the universe.

Truth, then, has its relations with good, and error or falsehood is related with evil; because what is true is good, and what is good is true; again, what is false is an evil, and what is an evil is false. But, according to the artificial state in which mankind exist, the natural order of things have become changed. Good and evil are of various degrees, and truth is often an evil.

In a state of nature, the result of truth must be always good; but, in a civilized state of society, it is frequently an evil. For instance, the laws of society are not always either just or merciful; and, when the law denounces death as the punishment for a trifling act, it would be a greater evil to society to adhere to truth than to swerve from it, because every member might become subject to that punishment in his turn. Moral truth, consequently, in civilized society, is often a violation of the laws of nature, because these laws do not require the life of an individual, except when the law of preservation has been already wilfully violated, or intended to have been violated.

Even in civilized society the standard of moral good is endeavoured to be founded on truth, because the systems of morals in all countries, which have arrived at a state of civilization and refinement, consist in an attempt to excite the faculties of friendship, benevolence, and religion, and in an endeavour to check the activity of those propensities, the excessive development of which must incite the individual to acquire more than he wants, at the expence of the well-being of others : but, in commercial nations, which are, generally, nations of refinement and luxury, the activity of the faculties which lead to self-interest, is constantly kept up, from the daily pursuits of the individual, and these faculties draw the intellectual to their own assistance, while the sentiments which lead to moral good are not so frequently called forth to action; hence, in refined society, real friendship, real benevolent feelings, and real sentiments of religion, are not very often to be found.

Much difference of opinion exists respecting the foundation of moral truth. Some rest it upon reason, others upon nature, others upon the fitness of things, and others again upon religion. Each opinion appears to be correct, because all these are properties inherent in the human mind. Nature, and the universal fitness of things, are one and the same thing: the mind is a part of nature, and reason and religious sentiments constitute a part of the mind. It may be said, then, that moral truth is a principle implanted in the constitution of man; that it is related with the phenomena of nature in their utmost extent; and that any deviation from this universal order would be a moral evil.

Moral good, as it regards living beings, consists in health, and happiness, in every sense; and moral evil, in disease and misery. Every portion of evil added to good must abstract a portion of that good, and the abstraction will be in proportion to the quantity of evil which is added; because nothing can impart to another more than it possesses itself. The portion of good imparted to evil is swallowed up in that evil, till the good predominates, and vice versa: hence, morals are governed by laws analogous to those of physics,-the stronger cause invariably overcoming the weaker.

Natural death cannot be considered an evil, because it fol. lows the order of every thing connected with this world. Living beings become prepared for it by a gradual decay of their constitution. But premature death must be considered the greatest evil, inasmuch as it is the immediate result of the highest degree of disease, which is the farthest deviation from the general intentions of nature.

Although pleasure is connected with happiness, yet happiness is not always the result of pleasure, because the evil consequent on the former frequently predominates over the good attending it. But pain is always an evil; for the mere relief of pain, which may follow, is not a sufficient compensation for the misery attending it; because any pleasure which may be added to the negation of pain, cannot be greater than if there had been no previous pain. But pleasure forms a part of moral good, when it is not followed by pain sufficient to counter-balance itself; but, as pleasure is an overstretch of happiness, it is generally followed by an evil great enough to neutralize itself. It would appear, then, that pleasure and pain meet at the state of health; for, if the former falls below that state, it is pain,--and, if the latter rises above it, it is pleasure.

If we take a review of the subject which has been discussed, we shall find that physical truth consists in the immutable laws and phenomena of nature ; that man constitutes a part of nature; that, in the relation of natural phenomena with the mind, consists moral truth; that moral truth forms the foundation of moral belief; that the strongest cause of belief consists in the evidence of the senses ; that some properties exist in

VOL. 11. PART I.

I

nature, too minute to bear a relation with our organs of sense, but whose existence is proved by inference, from the phenomena which they produce in combination with sensible matter; that the nature and tendency of distant bodies are proved by a generalization of the known laws relating to terrestrial matter; that the second cause of belief consists in the knowledge of, and dependence which we place in, the capacity, opportunity, and integrity of others; that the last cause of moral belief consists in a knowledge of, or a previous belief in, certain circumstances, with which the supposed fact is inferred to be related ; that truth is allied with good, and error with evil; that moral good is a principle implanted in the constitution of man, and that moral evil is the result of an over-excitement of certain faculties which were originally intended for the self-preservation and well-being of the individual.

Hence, a conformance to the laws of nature must be formance to the laws of truth, as her sensible phenomena are the only standard by which we are to distinguish truth from error, good from evil, and right from wrong. Nature never errs in her ends, unless when baffled by art, but the force of art can thwart only a few of her minor intentions : she is powerful in her means, and her views are always good; and an obedience to her laws must be an obedience to the will of that great Cause which gave her existence.

ON MUSIC.

Let others boast the " rhapsody of words !"

Music, divine enchantress, has to me

All language :-when along the ivory key
The fine touch vibrates to the unseen chords

A supernatural dialect,-0, then
All passions answer her; and woman's hand

Hath magic in it audible to men,
Holding o'er the heart's mysteries command.

Chief to the mind-worn husband," who at eve
Seeks solace, what a heavenly balm art thou !
How like an angel sitteth she, whose vow

Was pledged to soothe his sorrow, should he grieve !
Her fingers shame, in purity and whiteness,
The ivory keys o'er which they float in faery lightness.

[merged small][ocr errors]

115

DISCUSSION:

ARE CORPORATE BODIES BENEFICIAL OR INJURIOUS?

successor.

In favour of Corporate Institutions, it was maintained, that they were of the highest antiquity and use. They originated in the time of Numa, and their object was one of profound policy. The Roman city was distracted by two contending factions; and to destroy, by dividing, their power, the sovereign resorted to the expedient of forming a society or corporation of every manual trade and profession. At a subsequent period they were called universitates, as forming one whole out of many individuals; or collegia, from being gathered together.

In England there arose this peculiarity. Corporations might be sole, as well as aggregate. Thus, a vicar was a corporation. The freehold of the church was vested in him ; and, in his capacity as a body politic or incorporate, the vicar never dies. By this institution, the difficulty was avoided, which would otherwise arise, of conveying the freehold to a

The church lands were not liable to the debts of the incumbent after his decease, and his natural heirs had no claim over them. Hence, the interests of the church, and the cause of religion, were promoted.

The incorporated institutions, which had the greatest share of influence on society, and which would probably decide the question, were the aggregate” corporations. They consisted of the mayor and commonalty of cities, of the head and fellows of colleges, the dean and chapter of cathedrals, and the officers of incorporated public companies.

The objects of ihese establishments might naturally be divided into three :

1. Corporations for the support or encouragement of trade and commerce.

2. Those for the advancement of science and learning.

3. Those for the support and diffusion of religion and charity.

The general advantages of collective bodies, applicable to all those purposes, were various. It was in the power of many to accomplish what would be impracticable to a few. The object was pursued through successive ages; and that which, in the individual state, would fail with the life of the original projector, was continued by the collective body, until perfection was obtained by continued effort. Though individuals might voluntarily combine, they could not become permanent. So long, indeed, as they agreed in opinion, they might continue together; but such was human nature, that, unless compelled to obedience, it generally revolted. It was of the first importance, therefore, that the society should have the right to make binding laws, and the power to enforce their execution.

When incorporated, the community acts with the promptitude of one individual, and with the force of many. The selfconstituted societies, however numerous the members of which they were composed, could not acquire the same influence. They were liable to be dispersed, or irreparably injured, by the death or resignation of particular individuals; and, when once their prosperity declined, their fall very rapidly followed. They could not, without great difficulty, hold estates unless incorporated, nor acquire any extensive privileges; and, if they did acquire them, and they were attacked, it was difficult to defend theni.

It was obvious, that, without the unity which prevailed in the very nature of these corporations, no great objects could be effected. The combined wealth and exertions of thousands were necessary to achieve the improvements which had raised Great Britain to her present eminence. It was fair to infer, that our superiority had chiefly, if not entirely, been owing to the number and magnitude of our incorporated towns and public bodies : and, whilst we had thus been enabled to surpass all competitors, we had rapidly advanced in every art of civilized life, and every means by which wealth and power were obtained and secured.

It might not be necessary to illustrate these positions by reference to any particular incorporations, since the truth of the general position must be at once felt and admitted ; but, if any proof; were wanting, we might be referred to the City of London and the East India Company.

Could any one imagine that the metropolis of the empire would have attained its splendour, its magnitude, its riches, by a divided race of individual speculators that those who had peculiar interests opposed to the general advantage would have annihilated self, and promoted the common good ?--or that the great public works that adorn the capital, when commenced, would have been steadily and successfully pursued ?

And, however it might be now supposed, that the commerce to the East could be conducted without a chartered and wealthy company, it would surely be acknowledged, that, in the origin of the establishment, and for a long period of its progress, all the resources of its numerous proprietory, and

« PreviousContinue »