Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

and protection, though he have no natural claim upon you, is compassion, and the summit of good feeling.

Of all the affections, there are various degrees. There is that degree in which it is scarcely perceptible; there is that calm state of the affection, where it leaves the reason unbiassed ; and there is that last, and most violent degree of it, which assumes the name of passion. This is quite as true of the malevolent, as of the benevolent affections. Resentment may be calm, or it may be furious. There is a silent apprehension, and a fear exhibiting itself in the most acute paroxysms. Now, it seems evident that reason, in a strict sense, (meaning by that term the judgment of truth and falsehood,) can never be any motive to the will, and can have no influence, but so far as it touches some passion or affection. What is commonly, and in a popular sense, called reason, and is so much recommended in moral discourses, is nothing but a general and calm passion, which takes a comprehensive and distant view of its object, and actuates the will, without exciting any sensible emotion. A man, we say, is diligent from reason ; that is, from a calm desire of riches and fortune. A man adheres to justice from reason ; that is, from a calm regard to public good, and to a character with himself and others. For observe all that reason can do; reason only enables us to judge of propositions. This man is miserable ; this man is going on in a way which will terminate in his complete ruin; by a prudent set of measures, I will save and convert him. By your reason you prognosticate his future good ; but the motive which induces you to plan his extrication, has nothing to do with reason. If God have not planted the benevolent passions in your heart, you may go on reasoning and anticipating to all eternity, without the slightest disposition to act. All motives come from the passions; all means and instruments, from reason.

The same objects which recommend themselves to

The com

reason, in this sense of the word, are also the objects of passion when they are nearer to us; and acquire some other advantage, either of external situation, or congruity to our internal temper. Evil near at hand

produces aversion, and is the object of passion ; at a great distance, we say it is avoided from reason. mon error of metaphysicians has been in ascribing the direction of the will entirely to one of those principles, and supposing the other to have no influence. In general, we may observe that both these principles operate on the will; and what we call strength of mind, implies the prevalence of the calm passions above the violent; though we may easily observe that there is no person so constantly possessed of this virtue, as never on any occasion to yield to the solicitations of violent desire and affection : and from these variations of temper, proceed the great difficulty of deciding with regard to the future actions and resolutions of men, where there is any contrariety of motives and passions.

Without some calm passion, - some degree of some species of desire,—the mind could not long endure. Such a state is probably the state of fatuity, or idiotism. A man in such a condition, would stop in the middle of a street, and remain there all his life. Some degree of passion, therefore, is not only pleasing, but necessary. Whenever this stimulus of passion does not exist in due proportion, we feel ennui : when there is a just degree of passion, and that passion directs us to objects easily attainable, we feel contented, — for content is not the absence of calm passion, but the constant facility of gratifying it without too much difficulty, and without subsequent inconvenience. Not only is a state of calm passion pleasant, but a state of violent emotion appears to have its allurements. Young persons love danger for danger's sake. School-boys climb walls and trees because it is agreeable to them to be afraid of tumbling;

and this explains the pleasures of mischief.

A

school-boy flings a stone into a window, and, running to some distance, stops to enjoy the violent rage of the Derson whose window has been broken: the moderate risk he runs, is a very pleasant excitement to him. Nay, he will tie a rope across a place where he knows people are to pass, even where he cannot wait to see them tumble: the mere imagination of so much terror and confusion, fills him with pleasant feelings, and he is convulsed with laughter at the very thoughts of it.

Young men turn soldiers and sailors from the love of being agitated ; and for the same reason, country gentlemen leap over stone walls. This - and not avarice - is the explanation of gaming. Men who game, are, in general, very little addicted to avarice; but they court the conflict of passions which gaming produces, and which guards them from the dulness and ennui to which they would otherwise feel themselves exposed. The love of emotion is the foundation of tragedy; and so pleasant is it to be moved, that we set off for the express purpose of looking excessively dismal for two hours and a half, interspersed with long intervals of positive sobbing. The taste for emotion may, however, become a dangerous taste; and we should be very cautious how we attempt to squeeze out of human life, more ecstasy and paroxysm than it can well afford. It throws an air of insipidity over the greater part of our being, and lavishes on a few favoured moments the joy which was given to season our whole existence. It is to act like school-boys, - to pick the plums and sweetmeats out of the cake, and quarrel with the insipidity of the batter: whereas the business is, to infuse a certain share of flavour throughout the whole of the mass; and not so to habituate ourselves to strong impulse and extraordinary feeling, that the common tenor of human affairs should appear to us incapable of amusement, and devoid of interest. The only safe method of indulging this taste for emotion, is by seeking for its gratification,

of energy

not in passion, but in science, and all the pleasures of the understanding; by mastering some new difficulty; by seeing some new field of speculation open itself before us; by learning the creations, the divisions, the connections, the designs, and contrivances of nature. If we seek relief from the lassitude of common thoughts and common things, these are the only emotions which at once are innocent, inexhaustible, and sublime.

It is impossible not to suppose that there is a considerable degree of connection between the intellectual, and active powers; that talents must produce a striking influence upon affections, and affections upon talents. The extremes are very easily perceived; there is a degree

in the active powers, utterly incompatible with any exercise of the understanding at all. In paroxysms of rage and grief, not only the arrangement of ideas, but even the utterance of words, becomes quite impossible: and on the opposite side, it cannot be conceived how the understanding comes to act at all ; how it does anything more than merely perceive, without the influence of some desire or affection; however low and however calm that degree may be. The influence of passion upon the understanding, will, of course, be very different, according to the different parts of the understanding to which it is applied. To all efforts of the imagination, a certain degree of passion appears highly favourable; anger quickens wit, multiplies images and words, and gives a flow and a fecundity, of which the mind is utterly destitute in its ordinary state. Every inan is eloquent in speaking of himself, from the direct influence which his passions have upon his imagination. The finest and most affecting parts of Cicero, are always about himself; every passion of his great mind, seems to be at work, in that noble conclusion of the second philippic, which afterwards cost him his life. “ But do you, Antony,” he says,

look “ to yourself; and I will confess what are my principles.

me.

" I have defended the republic when I was young, I will “not desert it now I am old: I have despised the sword “ of Cataline, and the sword of Antony shall not alarm

Most willingly would I sacrifice this body, if, by my death, the liberty of Rome could be established. “ Did not I say twenty years ago, in this very senate, " that when a man perished who had reached the dig

nity of consul, he could not be said to have perished “ prematurely? And do you think, now that old age " is come upon me, I will retract or deny this doctrine?

Conscript fathers, I wish for death; I have gained all " that the republic can bestow; I have performed all " that it can require! Let death come when it will, I “ am prepared to meet it. I have only two things to

implore: first, that my country may deal out to all “ her children the punishment or the reward they “ merit; next, that when I do die, I may leave the “ Romans free. If the Gods grant me this, there is “ nothing else which they can bestow.'

No one could say of Mr. Burke, that he did not write with passion; and whenever his passions are awakened, his imagination appears to be fecundated : he is metaphorical at all times; but when he feels strongly, everything is simile, allusion, and metaphor; and these are poured out, in a manner quite natural; as if the habitual effect of passion in him, were, to conjure up all this splendid imagery, and to give unusual promptitude to the current of his ideas.

But, though passion always comes in aid of a fine imagination, it very often happens that we meet with imagination without passion or feeling,

and feeling and passion without imagination.

There is a beautiful passage in the book of Ruth, which, though full of feeling, has no imagination. “ And " Ruth said to her mother, Naomi, Entreat me not to " leave, thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and “where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be

A A

« AnteriorContinuar »