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nature, which makes continued rest painful to you; or you go to call upon some one, who will make you more rich, or more powerful; or you go to a tailor, who will make you more respectable in your appearance. These great operating principles are broken down into innumerable divisions and subdivisions; but there are very few of our actions which cannot be traced to their
The ten thousand minute things which we all perform every day, all proceed, directly or indirectly, from the great principles which I have enumerated. Look at the bustle of Bond Street; drive from thence to the Royal Exchange; observe the infinite variety of occupations, movements, and agitations, as you go along: nothing can appear more intricate, — more impossible to be reduced to anything like rule or system ; and yet, a very few elements put all this mass of human beings into action. If a messenger from heaven were on a sudden to annihilate the love of power, the love of wealth, and the love of esteem, in the human heart; in half an hour's time the streets would be as empty, and as silent, as they are in the middle of the night. I take it to be a consequence of civilisation, that all the feelings of mind which proceed from the body excite little sympathy, in comparison with those which have not a bodily origin. The loss of a leg and an arm is a dreadful misfortune; but the slightest disgrace would be considered as a much greater. To be laid up seven months in the gout every year is a piteous state of existence; to lose a brother or a sister, is a state of existence, in common estimation, still more miserable. The slightest pang of jealousy, or wounded pride, may be brought upon the stage; but the most intense pain of body, introduced into a play, would excite laughter rather than compassion. Who would endure a tragedy, where the whole distress turned upon a fit of the palsy, or a smart rheumatic fever? Nothing could be more exquisitely ridiculous! The fact is, as a nation advances in the
useful arts, all bodily evils are so much mitigated, and guarded against, that they cease to excite that sympathy which they formerly did, because they are less generally felt. How ridiculous, as I before remarked, a play would be, of which a hungry man were the hero! Why ? — because we never suffer from extreme hunger, and have very little sympathy for it; there is hardly any such thing known in civilised society: the author himself would, probably, be the only inan in the whole play-house, who had ever seriously felt the want of a dinner. But if a nation of savages were to see such a drama acted, they would see no ridicule in it at all; because starving to death is, among them, no uncommon thing: they are advanced such a little way in civilisation, that to fill their stomachs, is the great and important object of life: and I have no doubt, that to an Indian audience, the loss of a piece of venison might be the basis of a tragedy which would fill every eye with tears; but, on the contrary, they might be very likely to laugh, to hear a man complain of his wounded honour, if it turned out that he had ten days' provision beforehand in his cabin. In the same manner, the loss of a leg is the consummation of all evil, where there is nothing but body ; but it becomes an evil of the lowest order, where there remain behind the pleasures of imagination, of elegant learning, of the fine arts, of all the luxuries and glories of civilisation, – the tendency of which, is always to put down and vilify everything which belongs to the body, and to exalt all the feelings in which the mind alone is concerned. In some of the Greek tragedies, there is an attempt to excite compassion by the representation of the agonies of bodily pain. Philoctetes cries out and faints from the extremity of his suffering, exclaiming upon the stage, “ Oh, Jupiter ! my leg, my leg !” Hyppolitus and Hercules are both introduced as expiring under the severest torments. These attempts to excite compassion by the representation of
bodily pain, are certainly among the greatest breaches of decorum, of which the Greek theatre has set the example; and afford a strong suspicion that their audience was less elegant and refined than that which presides over our modern theatres. And the reason why such sort of appeals to the passions would not now be tolerated, is, not so much on account of the pain they would excite, (because, the sufferings of the mind excite pain,) but because bodily pain is a dull, stupid, unvarying, uninteresting spectacle, in comparison with all those critical and delicate emotions of mind, which are universally felt in a state of civilisation, -- and in that state alone. Dr. Adam Smith seems to imagine that our disregard of the bodily appetites and passions, can be accounted for on general principles. “Such is our “aversion,” he says, “ for all the appetites which take “ their origin from the body: all strong expressions of “them are loathsome and disagreeable. According to
some ancient philosophers, these are the passions which " we share in common with the brutes, and which,
having no connection with the characteristical quali“ties of human nature, are upon that account beneath " its dignity. But there are many other passions which
we share in common with the brutes, such as resentment, natural affection, even gratitude, which do not, upon that account, appear to be so brutal. The true
cause of the peculiar disgust which we conceive for “ the appetites of the body, when we see them in other
men, is, that we cannot enter into them. To the person himself who feels them, as soon as they are
gratified, the object that excited them ceases to be “agreeable: even its presence often becomes offensive " to him ; he looks round to no purpose for the charm “ which transported him the moment before; and he
can now as little enter into his own passion as another
Dr. Adam Smith's “ Moral Sentiments," part i. p. 46.
I cannot think this explanation to be just; but it seems to me, that all the pains and pleasures of the body are degraded, and put down, by the greater pains and pleasures of the mind introduced by civilisation.
Having premised these observations, I proceed to consider the desire of knowledge itself.
A child loves novelty, because the excitement which it occasions is agreeable: he does not consider whether the novelties which attract his attention are useful or not; but he merely loves them because they are new. It is from this passion that he becomes so rapidly acquainted with the properties of matter. In what we call his idlest moments, he is making himself acquainted with the qualities of objects, and the powers of his own body; - is wax soft? is iron hard ? is wood fit to eat ? how high can I jump? what can I carry ? and such-like questions, which may be called the grammar of existence, a child is perpetually resolving, under the influence of novelty. The desire of knowledge is this same principle, guided by utility; for no person, I believe, is said to acquire knowledge, who merely acquires new truths, but only he who acquires new useful truths. It would not be impossible to ascertain how many persons there are in Great Britain whose names begin with an S. A person
who ascertained this, would acquire new truths; but we should hardly say he was influenced by a desire of knowledge.
The love of knowledge is, perhaps, very seldom genuine: it is not loved for the direct pleasure it affords, but to avoid disgrace; or to obtain money, or fame, or power; or for the pleasure of communicating it. There are, I fancy, very few of those who love knowledge the best, that would pursue it with any great degree of ardour, if they were so completely excluded from society, as to render it impossible that they should communicate with mankind, either in person, or by their works. The fact is, that to seek for those novelties which are hidden
in history, or in science, — to wait for our gratifications so long, and to withstand so many present impulses of sense, as every lover of knowledge must do,—is no very easy thing. It requires all these auxiliary passions to help it out. It rewards so much, that it ought to be rewarded; it confers so much honour, that it ought to be honoured ; it communicates so much pleasure, that it ought to be pleased; it is so immensely valuable to mankind, that no motive which gives it birth can be a bad one.
The best, however, of all motives is, (as Lord Bacon has told us,) that we may employ the gift of reason, given us by God, to the use and advantage of man. The love of knowledge, merely for its own sake, and without any reference to its utility, is a passion quite similar to that which is felt by a child ;
- a desire to procure excitement from novelty and surprise. The immediate and instant pleasure derived from reading an ingenious problem in Euclid, is not different from that which a child would feel at the sight of a new toy; but a man, before he sets about gratifying this passion for novelty, satisfies himself that the novelties which he is seeking, are useful. So that the love of knowledge is very often a mere secondary passion; and it proceeds from the love of that fortune and fame, which is the consequence of knowledge; or, when it seems more original, it may be resolved into the love of emotion or novelty.
But though, in common, the love of knowledge is solvable into some other passion at its origin, and before it is formed by association, yet, there are some very remarkable instances of the pure love of knowledge, where it is not easy to ascribe its existence to any other
Such appears to have been the case with James Ferguson, the philosopher and the mechanic. He was born in Scotland, of the poorest parents; and his love of knowledge began to exert itself at the earliest age. He learnt to read from hearing his father teach his