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HARK! heard ye not that piercing cry,
E'en now, e'en now, on yonder Western shores Weeps pale Despair, and writhing Anguish roars: E'en now in Afric's groves with hideous yell Fierce Slavery stalks, and slips the dogs of Hell; From vale to vale the gath'ring cries rebound, And sable nations tremble at the sound!
-YE BANDS OF SENATORS! whose suffrage sways
Question. WHETHER Anger ought to be suppressed entirely, or only to be confined within the bounds of moderation?
Those who maintain, that resentment is blamable only in the excess, support their opinion with such arguments as these:
Since Anger is natural and useful to man, entirely to ban`ish it from our breast would be an equally foolish and vain attempt; for as it is difficult, and next to impossible, to oppose nature with success; so it were imprudent, if we had it in our power, to cast away the weapons, with which she has furnished us for our defence. The best armour against injustice is a proper degree of spirit, to repel the wrongs that are done, or designed against us; but if we divest ourselves of all resentment, we shall perhaps prove too irresolute and languid, both in resisting the attacks of injustice, and inflicting punishment upon those who have committed it. We shall therefore sink into contempt, and, by the tameness of our spirit, shall invite the malicious to abuse and affront us. Nor will others fail to deny us the regard which is due from them, if once they think us incapable of resentment. To remain
unmoved at gross injuries has the appearance of stupidity, and will make us despicable and mean in the eyes of many, who are not to be influenced by any thing but their fears.
And as a moderate share of resentment is useful in it's effects, so it is innocent in itself, nay often commendable. The virtue of mildness is no less remote from insensibility, on the one hand, than from fury on the other. It implies, that we are angry only upon proper occasions, and in a due degree; that we are never transported beyond the bounds of decency, or indulge a deep and lasting resentment; that we do not follow, but lead our passion, governing it as our servant, not submitting ourselves to it as our master. Under these regulations it is certainly excusable, when moved only by private wrongs: and being excited by the injuries which others suffer, it bespeaks a generous mind, and deserves commendation. Shall a good man feel no indignation against injustice and barbarity? not even when he is witness to shocking instances of them? when he sees a friend basely and cruelly treated; when he observes
Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
shall he still enjoy himself in perfect tranquillity? Will it be a crime, if he conceive the least resentment? Will it not be rather somewhat criminal, if he be destitute of it? In such cases we are commonly so far from being ashamed of our anger, as of something mean, that we are proud of it, and confess it openly, as what we count laudable and meritorious.
The truth is, there seems to be something manly, and, we are bold to say, something virtuous, in a just and well-conducted resentment. In the mean time, let us not be suspected of endeavouring to vindicate rage, and peevishness, and implacable resentment. No; such is their deformity, so horrid and so manifest are the evils they produce, that they do not admit of any defence or justification. We condemn, we detest them, as unnatural, brutish, unmanly, and monstrous. All we contend for is, that it is better to be moderate in our resentment, than to suppress it altogether. Let us therefore keep it under a strict discipline, and carefully restrain it within the bounds which reason prescribes, with
regard to the occasion, degree, and continuance of it. But let us not presume to extirpate any of those affections, which the wisdom of God has implanted in us, which are so nicely balanced, and so well adjusted to each other, that by destroying one of them we may perhaps disorder and blemish the whole frame of our nature.
To these arguments, those who adopt the opinion that anger should be entirely suppressed, reply:
You tell us, anger is natural to man; but nothing is more natural to man than reason, mildness, and benevolence. Now with what propriety can we call that natural to any creature, which impairs and opposes the most essential and distinguishing parts of it's constitution? Sometimes indeed we may call that natural to a species, which, being found in most of them, is not produced by art or custom. That anger is in this sense natural, we readily grant; but deny that we therefore cannot, or may not, lawfully extinguish it. Nature has committed to our management the faculties of the mind, as well as the members of the body; and, as when any of the latter become pernicious to the whole, we cut them off and cast them away; in like manner, when any of our affections are become hurtful and useless in our frame, by cutting them off we do not in the least counteract the intention of Nature. Now such is anger to a wise man. To fools and cowards it is a necessary evil; but to a person of moderate sense and virtue, it is an evil which has no advantage attending it. The harm it must do him is very apparent. It must ruffle his temper, make him less agreeable to his friends, disturb his reason, and unfit him for discharging the duties of life in a becoming manner. By only diminishing his passion, he may lessen, but cannot remove the evil; for the only way to get clear of the one is by entirely dismissing the other.
How then will anger be so useful to him, as to make it worth his while to retain it in any degree? He may defend his own rights; assist an injured friend; prosecute and punish a villain. I say, his prudence and friendship, his public spirit and calm resolution, will enable him to do all this; and to do it in a much more safe, proper, and effectual manner, without the assistance of anger, than with it. He will be de
spised and neglected, you say, if he appear to have no resentment. You should rather say, if he appear to have no sedate wisdom and courage: for these qualities will be sufficient of themselves, to secure him from contempt, and maintain him in the possession of his just authority. Nor does any thing commonly lessen us more in the eyes of others, thau our own passion. It often exposeth us to the contempt and derision of those who are not in our power; and if it make us feared, it also makes us proportionally hated, by our inferiors and dependants. Let the influence it gives us be ever so great, that man must pay very dear for his power, who procures it at the expense of his own tranquillity and peace.
Besides, the imitation of anger, which is easily formed, will produce the same effect upon others, as if the passion was real. If therefore to quicken the slow, to rouse the inattentive, and restrain the fierce, it is sometimes expedient, that they believe you are moved, you may put on the outward appearance of resentment. Thus you may obtain the end of anger, without the danger and vexation that attend it; and may preserve your authority, without forfeiting the peace of your mind.
However manly and vigorous anger may be thought, it is in fact but a weak principle, compared with the sedate resolution of a wise and virtuous man. The one is uniform and permanent like the strength of a person in perfect health; the other, like a force which proceedeth from a fever, is violent for a time, but soon leaves the mind more feeble than before. To him, therefore, who is armed with a proper firmness of soul, no degree of passion can be useful in any respect. And to say it can ever be laudable and virtuous is indeed a sufficiently bold assertion. For the most part we blame it in others, and though we are apt to be indulgent enough to our own faults, we are often ashamed of it in ourselves. Hence it is common to hear men excusing themselves, and seriously declaring they were not angry, when they have given unquestionable proofs to the contrary. But do we not commend him who resents the injuries done to a friend or innocent person? Yes, we commend him; yet not for his passion, but for that generosity and friendship of which it is the evidence. For let any one impartially consider which of these characters he esteems the better; his,