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Materials for Thinking.
EXTRACTED FROM THE WORKS OF
ANCIENT AND MODERN AUTHORS.
WHATEVER CHARITY WE OWE TO MEN'S PERSONS, WE OWE NONE TO
THEIR ERRORS."-Bishop Burnet.
[Price One Penny.
1014. Happiness depends upon the gratification of our desires and passions. The happiness of Titus arose from the indulgence of a beneficent temper; Epaminondas reaped enjoyment from the love of his country; the love of fame was the source of Cæsar's felicity; and the gratification of grovelling appetites gave delight to Vitellius. It has also been observed that some one passion generally assumes a pre-eminence in the mind, and not only predominates over appetites and desires, but contends with reason, and is often victorious. In proportion as one passion gains strength, the rest languish and are enfeebled. They are seldom exercised; their gratifications yield transient pleasures, become of slight importance, are dispirited, and decay; thus our happiness is attached to one ruling and ardent passion; but our reasonings concerning future events are weak and short-sighted : we form schemes of felicity that never can be realized; we cherish affections that never can be gratified.
If, therefore, the disappointed passion has been long encouraged ; if the gay visions of Hope and Imagination have long administered to its violence -if it is confirmed by habit in the temper and constitution,-if it has su. perseded the operation of other active principles, and so enervated their strength, its disappointment will be embittered; and Sorrow, prevented by no other passion, will prey unabating on the desolate and abandoned spirits. We may also observe, that none are more liable to afflictions of this sort, than those to whom nature has given extreme sensibility. Alive to every impression, their feelings are exquisite; they are eager in every pursuit; their imaginations are vigorous, and well adapted to fire them. They live, for a time, in a state of anarchy, exposed to the inroads of every passion; and though possessed of singular abilities their conduct will be capricious. Glowing with the warmest affections, open, generous, and candid, yet prone to inconstancy, they are incapable of lasting friendship. At length, by force of repeated indulgence, some one passion becomes habitual, occupies the heart, seizes the understanding, and, impatient of resistance or control, weakens or extirpates every opposing principle. Disappointment ensues; no passion remains to administer comfort; and
the original sensibility wbich prompted this disposition will render the mind more susceptible of anguish, and yield it a prey to despondency. We ought, therefore, to beware of limiting our felicity to the gratification of any individual passion. Nature ever wise and provident, has endowed us with capacities for various pleasures, and has opened to us many fountains of happiness ; let no tyrannic passion, let no rigid doctrine, deter thee; drink of the streams, be moderate and be grateful.—The Bee, 1791.
1015. Passion is the soul of action, and the great spur that hath ever urged mankind to all that is good or wicked.
Brown's Principles of the Times.
1016. Right of Thought.
1017. Ignorance and Knowledge. I believe that it is from our ignorance that our contentions flow; we debate with strife and with wrath, with bickering and with hatred; but of the thing debated upon we remain in the profoundest ignorance. Like the laborers of Babel, while we endeavour in vain to express our meaning to each other, the fabric by wbich, for a common end, we would have ascended to heaven from the ills of earth, remains for ever unadvanced and incomplete. Let us hope that knowledge is the universal language, which shall re-unite us. As, in their sublime allegory, the Romans signified that only through virtue we arrived at honor, so let us believe, that only through knowledge can we arrive at virtue.
E. L. Bulwer. The Disowned
1018. Historical Evidence. - Were most historical events traced
up to their causes, we should find historical evidence very deficient, Mankind is made
up of inconsistencies; and no man acts invariably up to his predo minant character. Our best conjectures, as to the true spring of actions, are very uncertain; the actions themselves is all we must pretend to know from history. That Cæsar was murdered by twenty four conspirators, I doubt not; but I very much doubt, whether their love of liberty was the sole cause.Lord Chesterfield.
1019. Soldier.:-A soldier is a being hired to kill in cold blood, as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.
1020. A Dialogue on Government.-P. Were popular commotions again to take place in France, in England, or in any other country of Europe, would you entertain any such extravagant expectations as you did at the commencement of the French revolution?
F. Indeed I should not. I understand a little better than I did in my youth, the nature of the motives that influence the actions of men. I have paid some attention to the passions anil prejudices and follies of my own species. I have studied, as much as my situation in life would allow, the progress of society from barbarism to refinement; and I have been led to conclude that in every country where wealth is the principal object of pursuit the great body of the people must always be slaves.
P. Why then should the termination of the French revolution be mentioned by you in terms of regret, since the people would have been equally slaves under a national assembly?
F. Because in a monarchical government there is but one freeman, or, as an ancient Roman would probably have said, there is but one MAN; but in a government where the power is divided among many, there are many who deserve the appellation of MEN. Because the minds of men are paralyzed by the iron rod of power in the hand of a tyrant, and sink into torpid stupidity; but in a popular government, the mind of every man, who enjoys a portion of the sovereignty, is incited to action by emulation, ambition, and hope; and the energies of his soul are suffered to expand.
P. My dear friend, when we consider the poisonous effects of avarice, and the enervating influence of luxury, upon the manners of men, we must despair, I am afraid, of seeing a permanent republican government in any civilized nation.
F. Unless heaven should send down some mighty Lycurgus, with the will and the power to raise and educate a nation of republicans.
P. And your heaven-sent Lycurgus must take away the children, as soon as born, from their degenerate parents, and educate them in the wilderness far from the haunts of civilized men.
F. What! make savages of them?
F. O, that is the same thing; the Spartans were ignorant and cruel barbarians.
P. Our modern Lycurgus must instil into the minds of his young republicans, not the vices but the virtues of the ancient Spartans. He must teach them to love their friends and their country, to suffer with patience the evils of life, and laugh at the approaches of danger and death. Let him improve upon the plan of the Spartan lawgiver by forming an enlightened and civilized nation : but he must take care to prohibit the introduction of personal property. There must be no appropriation of things to individuals or societies: all must belong to the nation. Men must be taught to distinguish themselves by something more generous and noble than the accumulation of riches: they must place their happiness in friendship, love, honor, glory, and the good of their country; and not in the indulgence of selfish and sordid propensities.
F. Suppose you and I steal four or five hundred ragged dirty little savages from the suburbs of Philadelphia, and establish a republic in the wilderness. The parents will get rid of a troublesome burthen; and we, transporting idea! shall immortalize our names. Piomingo and Fluent will rank in after ages with Moses, Lycurgus, and Numa.
P. Did I not tell you, Frank, that the children must be taken as soon as they are born: before they are twelve months old they have imbibed half the follies of their parents, and contracted a thousand civilized vices.
F. Nay, then we may give up the scheme; for how should we manage five hundred infants squalling like devils; unless, indeed, we could have them suckled by goats in a cave, or by wolves in the mountains ?
1021. Men generally satisfied with their own understandings.Although very few men in the world are content with their own fortunes and estates, but would gladly change on any terms for the least advantage, yet no man was ever dissatisfied with his own understanding (especially if it were defective) but always believed himself to be as well provided that way as any of his neighbours.-For ignorance is one of those infirmities, that are insensible; and though it be ever so desperately sick feels no pain, nor want of health.—Butler's Remains.
1022. Vice.—Though the Gods should not know, and men should not punish, yet would I not commit it, so mean a thing is vice.—Seneca.
1023. The People.— The opinion, that the majority of the People have no concern in political disquisitions, is at once inuslting and injurious. They who maintain it, evidently mean to make a separation in the minds of men, between the government and the nation. It is insulting to the nation, as it insinuates that they are either incapable or unworthy of interfering; and it is injurious to the government and the whole community, as it renders that power, which ought to be an object of love, an object of terror and jealousy.
Such an opinion is fit only for a country subject to absolute power, and in which the people, considered only as conquered slaves, hold their lives and all their enjoyments at the will of the conqueror.
As to the intellectual abilities of the people, it is certain that some of the ablest statesmen, lawgivers, and men of business, have originated from that order which is called plebeian. There is a singular vigour of mind, as well as body, in men who have been placed out of the reach of luxury and corruption by their poor or obscure condition; and when this vigour of mind has been improved by a competent education, and subsequent opportunities of experience and observation, it has led to very high degrees of mental excellence. Plebeians have arrived at the very first rank in all arts and sciences; and there is nothing in politics so peculiarly abstruse or recondite, as to be incomprehensible by intellects that have penetrated into the profoundest depths of philosophy.-Knox. Spirit of Despotism.
1024. On Education." There is a strange distrust of human reason," says a noble author “in every human institution.” We know no institution in which this distrust is more apparent than in those connected with education. Let us observe it in one respect only—in the continued practice to this day of making the first and the last business of the modern system of school learning, the study of the dead languages of Greece and Rome. Now it would seem to a rational observer that this never could have happened if the plan had been coolly investigated, and the reason upon which it was first founded, fairly stated and considered. Such, however, is the weight and complexity of prejudice, with which this very plain but very important matter has become encumbered, that a person who undertakes to call in question the advantages of what is termed classical education, is immediately supposed to be either a jacobin or infidel, or both, and surely fraught with some design hostile to the peace and polish of society. This seems very unaccountable; and yet the association of ideas on which this monstrous supposition is established may, nevertheless, be traced. Classical learning the university, the university the clergy, the clergy the church, the church the state, the state the church, church and state: a foe to 'classical learning is an enemy to church and state!! the chain is entire—the position admits of no doubt. Now notwithstanding all this, and with the horror of the heresy before us, we shall take leave to call in question the wisdom of this very ancient practice.- London University Magazine.
1025. Old Age.–Old age, I conceive, is by no means one of the evils of life; because in proportion as the infirmities of the aged increase in number and degree, their sensibility also becomes more languid; and because to then the mere pleasure of living, compensates the pains of life. An old man's, greatest infelicity is the near prospect of death; to which a young man submits with much better grace.—Panages.
1026. The Christian religion in the primitive times was bred
under the greatest Tyranny in the world, and was propagated by being oppressed and prosecuted; but in after times, when it was delivered from that slavery, it inclined to be tyrannical itself: for when the Popes had reduced their cruelest enemies, the Roman emperors, they assumed a greater and more extravagant power than the others ever pretended to; as if religion having served out an apprenticeship to tyranny, as soon as it was out of its time, had set up for itselt.-Butler.
1027. Mortality of the Human Species — The inhabitants of a place are renewed almost every thirty years. In Europe, one half die before they are twenty years
age. It is probable that there are not any species of animal, domestic or savage, the half of whose little ones perish before they arrive at their full growth.—De Pauw.
1028, Error.-—“Error lives ere reason can be born." _Congreve.