صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

system. It does so, indeed, merely by the impression, that a certain regulation of the moral feelings is conducive to our own true and present happiness; and thus shows a wonderful power of compensation among these feelings, referable entirely to this source. But it is quite distinct from the great principle of conscience, which directs us to a certain line of conduct on the pure and high principle of moral duty, apart from all considerations of a personal nature, which leads a man to act upon nobler motives than those which result from the most refined self-love, and calls for the mortification of all personal feelings, when these interfere, in the smallest degree, with the requirements of duty. This distinction I conceive to be of the utmost practical importance; as it shows a principle of regulation among the moral feelings themselves, by which a certain exercise of the affections is carried on, in a manner which contributes in a high degree to the harmonies of society, but which does not convey any impression of moral approbation or merit that can be applied to the agent.

Self-love leads us then to consult our own feelings, and to seek directly our own interest and

[ocr errors]

happiness. The affections lead us to allow for the feelings, and to consider the advantage and comfort of other men; and a certain balance between these principles is essential to the healthy state of the moral being. It is seldom that the affections are likely to acquire an undue influence, but there is great danger of self-love degenerating into selfishness, which interferes with the duties we owe to others. We have formerly alluded to the means referable to the due exercise of the affections, and even to a sound and rational self-love, by which this

hould be in part prevented. When these are not sufficient, the appeal is to conscience; or a distinct reference of individual cases is made to the great principle of moral rectitude. We find accordingly this principle called into action when a man has become sensible of important defects in his moral habits. Thus, we may see a man, who has long given way to a peevish or irascible disposition, that is, to selfish acting upon his own feelings, without due regard to the feelings of others, setting himself to contend with this propensity upon the score of moral duty; while another, of a placid disposition, has no need of bringing the principle into action

for such a purpose. In the same manner, a person who has indulged a cold, contracted selfishness, may, under the influence of the same great principle, perform deeds of benevolence and kindness. Thus we perceive that the moral principle, or sense of duty, when it is made the regulating motive of action, is calculated to control self-love, and preserve the proper harmony between it and the exercise of the affections.



If the most active and industrious among mankind, was able to recal distinctly. every past moment of his life, it can scarcely be imagined how small a proportion those employed in real action would bear to the seeming possibilities of action; how many chasms would be found of wide and continued vacuity, and how many interstices left unfilled, even in the most tumultuous hurry of business, and the most eager pursuit of pleasure.

It is said by modern philosophers, that the hardest bodies are so porous, that if all matter were compressed to perfect solidity, it might be contained in a cube of a few feet. In like manner, if all the employment of life were crowded into the time which it really occupied, perhaps a few weeks, days, or hours, would be sufficient for its accom

plishment, so far as the mind was engaged in the performance. For such is the inequality of our corporeal to our intellectual faculties, that we contrive in minutes what we execute in years, and the mind often stands an idle spectator of the labour of the hands and expedition of the feet.

It is probable that the mind is always more or less active, although the common occasions of life require but a small part of that incessant cogitation; and by the peculiar organization of our bodies we are so often consigned to inactivity, that as through all our time we are thinking, so, for a great part of our time, we can only think.

Lest a power so restless should be either unprofitably or hurtfully employed, and the superfluities of intellect run to waste, it is of great importance to consider how we may govern our thoughts, restrain their irregular motions, and confine them from boundless dissipation.

This inquiry is often neglected for want of remembering that all action has its origin in the mind, and that, therefore, to suffer the thoughts to be vitiated, is to poison the fountains of action; unregulated desires will produce wrong practices;

« السابقةمتابعة »