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Finally, it must be observed, that these remarks are suggested with the view of noticing the real character, and worth of Moses; and in harmony with the volume of Inspiration, which enjoins us to “render to all their due," while it cautions us against “adding to,” as well as “ taking from,” any part of its testimiony.
J. W. Oswestry, 1823.
ON THE ATTRIBUTES THAT CONSTITUTE THE PERFECTION OF BEING,
No. Il.-[Continued from No. LIII. p. 145.] Perfection, then, does not consist, either in the possession of extraordinary faculties or powers, nor yet in possessing faculties or powers, which are incapable of being improved, and to which, consequently, there is nothing wanting, because such powers can have no existence. And even if they could, what can be more repugnant to our ideas of perfection than a being who lived independent of all other beings, who communed with none of them, who possessed in himself every thing he wanted, and withdrew from all commerce with the creation around him ? Such a being, so far from being perfect, would be the most imperfect, because the most useless being in the creation.
But it will be replied, that a being possessed of extraordinary faculties must be more perfect than one dissimilarly constituted; that power is more perfect than weakness, strength than debility, celerity than slowness, wisdom than ignorance, humility than pride, and forbearance than resentment: that a strong man is consequently more perfect than a weak man; a wise than an ignorant man, and so of all other qualities that are attributes of perfection. To this I reply, that the perfection of any being is not determined by the powers or faculties which he possesses, but by the adaptation of these faculties to the nature of his being, the situations and circumstances in which this nature is apt to place him, and the general relation which he holds with the beings that surround him. It is impossible for human imagination to conceive any endowment or faculty, either physical or intellectual, of which man is at present destitute, that would
VOL. XXVII. Cl. II. NO. LIV. Q
render him more perfect than he is, were it conferred upon him. Neither would he be more perfect if any one faculty, which is now natural to him, were more exquisitely contrived, or encreased in the activity of its operations; because his perfection consists in the harmony or adaptation of all his faculties to each other, not in the excellence of any. faculty in itself. If this harmony was not observed in our formation, we should then, indeed, be creatures intended for no certain end; for the moment our natural faculties break loose, and rebel against each other, we ourselves cannot, much less can others, tell the goal for which we are bound, because a being governed by contrary, impulses, each of them forcing him into that course to which itself inclines, is like a pilot without a helm, exposed to the mercy of the winds and waves, and consequently unable to determine his course, as it is liable to change at every blast. Such a pilot in the midst of the great ocean can form no opinion of the port where he may ultimately arrive. The moral sense is the pilot of human nature, and accordingly we find, that whenever the natural passions and appetites of any individual disavow its sovereignty, and refuse to be guided by its directions, the moment the harmony that should exist between them is destroyed, there is an end to all consistency of action, and consequently to all uniformity of pursuit. Such a man can never depend upon himself, be. cause he
cannot tell how he may act the next moment, as the helm is lost which alone could direct him. There is only one case in which the slave of passion can tell what course he is certain of steering, namely, when one rebellious passion or appetite, predominates over all the rest, and hurries him forward in its own lawless but uniform career.
To render any faculty of man, therefore, more excellent than nature bas rendered it, would be only to make him more imperfect by this superadded excellence, because a faculty exquisitely formed will not harmonise with faculties of a grosser mould. Let us suppose, for instance, that his intellect was so improved, that he could penetrate into the most secret recesses of the heart, would this be a step to perfection? It would, no doubt, if knowledge were preferable to happiness; for there would be an end to happiness the moment this knowledge was attained; as no one could endure to have his weaknesses, much less his vices, exposed to public view. Men, consequently, would avoid each other's society, and their superior discernment, or improved
intellect, could only be exercised in contemplating solitudes and desarts. To derive any advantage, therefore, from a more discerning intellect, the entire nature of man should be changed; for he should be pure and spotless as angels, before he could endure to have all his thoughts and feelings exposed to the world, and this purity could only be acquired by changing all the other attributes of his nature as well as his intellect, and presenting a perfect harmony in their adaptation to each other. Such a being, however, would not be man, and though he would stand higher in the order of creation, he would not still be more perfect, because the faculties or attributes of his nature could not be more harmoniously combined than those of man; for as no alteration can be made in any of his faculties without destroying the harmony by which they are connected at present, it is obvious that they are already as harmoniously combined as they can be, for where nothing can be added to, or taken from, the constitution of any being, without producing dis. order, the harmony is complete, and the being consequently perfect. Originally then, man is as perfect as an angel, because the same harmony is displayed in the formation of both, and both are equally fitted to fulfil the ends of their creation.
The works of man are also perfect, if all their parts be so well contrived or adapted to each other as to fulfil the ends for which they are intended. To this species of perfection, however, there lies one exception, namely, where the end proposed is not just. If it be asked, what is to determine the propriety or impropriety of an end? I reply, its tendency to increase or decrease the happiness of created beings, and this can never be effected by unjust means. Injustice affords only partial good, even when it is successful; but partial good is universal evil. The more the relation of any being is found to extend to other beings, the higher does such a being stand in the order of creation, provided this relation tend to the good of all these beings. God, therefore, who is related to all beings, and tends to promote the happiness of all, is the highest of all beings; and man would not be lord of the earth, if his relations to other beings were not more extended, and the happiness which he projects and realizes, more generally diffused. All animals, however, are perfect, though they do not all stand equally high in the order of creation. To be perfect, is only to possess such faculties or powers as are adapted
to the attainment of the end for which they were given, and this end will be always found to resolve itself into the happiness of animated Being. It will also be found that the happiness of what we might deem the most imperfect animal will be diminished, by the least change in any of his natural faculties, so that he is already contrived in that manner which is best calculated to secure all the happiness which he is capable of enjoying.
But it will be replied, that however perfect the works of God may be, the productions of man are incapable of perfection. It is agreed on by the general suffrage of all writers, whose opinions on the subject is worthy of attention, that human genius has never produced a perfect literary work. Pope, who has examined very minutely all the obstacles that impede our progress in the walks of literature, and all the means that are left us to surmount their unpropitious control, places a faultless work beyond the reach of human attainment. " Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see,
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.” But if it should even be granted, that with regard to the past and present time, this denunciation, so humbling to the aspirations of literary fame, is strictly true, on what principle could it be argued, that the thing is impossible in itself, unless perfection involve in its own nature principles that place its attainment beyond the reach of man? Arguments deduced from the experience of the past will never enable us to conclude, with certainty, whether an occurrence will or will not take place hereafter, if the possibility or impossibility of its occurrence cannot be demonstrated. He who devoted fifty years to the solution of some difficult problem, could not conclude from this long experience, that the solution was impossible, unless he showed that it depended on principles, all, or at least some, of which were placed beyond the grasp of human investigation: if they were not, it is possible that a man of more general acquirements, or of a more discriminating and analysing perception, would resolve it in an hour. When therefore we conclude, from the blemishes of former writers, that perfection cannot belong to literary productions, and that we shall never peruse a faultless work, our conclusion can have no certainty unless we prove, at the same time, from the nature of perfection, that it cannot enter into the creations of human genius.
Every thing in nature is created for some good end, and I have already shown that its being adapted to the fulfilment of this end is what constitutes its perfection. The perfection of the works of man, or, as they are called, the works of art, depends in like manner on being intended for a good end and being adapted to fulfil it. To determine, therefore, whether a work be perfect or not, we must ascertain whether the end for which it is intended be good, and whether it be adapted to fulfil this end.
The professed end or object of every writer is to make the world acquainted with his feelings or perceptions, or with the feelings and perceptions of others; and the object of every reader is to become acquainted with the feelings or perceptions of the author whom he takes up, or of the characters of whom he treats. Both objects are good, because they promote the sum of human felicity.
There is a positive and sensible gratification in communicating to others the knowledge which we possess ourselves, and this pleasure is increased when we unburden ourselves to them, and make them acquainted with our feelings, emotions, passions, antipathies and sympathies. While we are thus employed, we feel them participating in our joys and sharing in our regrets: a glow of kindred sympathy unites us to them, and we seem to enjoy but one soul and one spirit.
These are the pleasures of the writer, but those of the reader are still more vivid. He feels himself conversing with a person who unveils to him every secret of his heart, who throws no dark disguise over his aversions or propensities, who neither reflects nor thinks on what he ought to write, but writes what he thinks. To peruse such a writer and not to be pleased, is to divest ourselves altogether of the nature of man. Writing, therefore, promotes the happiness of him who writes and of him who reads, and the end or object of writing must necessarily be good. All that any production of the mind wants, therefore, to render it perfect, is that it possesses all the qualities that fit it for the fulfilment of its end.
The two first ends of writing, as I have just observed, are to express our own feelings or perceptions. What constitotes the perfection of the former is very different from that to which the latter branch of writing owes its perfection. Works in which we express our perceptions of things are necessarily works of science, and abstract knowledge, as