صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني
[ocr errors]

expounded it. It is in fact a most true principle, that the functions of a moral faculty, fully and adequately expounded, shall give true rules as to its guidance in reference to the external facts to which it is applicable. Thus Sympathy is in us the “faculty,” and the external fact of the world to which it corresponds is

misery.” Sympathy, then, bears us onward naturally, to take a share in others grief,—this is the nature of it in us,—and the action and end of it is that thus we may relieve misery.

Now we see many persons of naturally acute feelings of Sympathy, who are deeply and easily moved by facts of sorrow and misery, or even by high-wrought descriptions of it. They sympathize strongly, the feeling is deeply moving, delightful to a generous heart, has in itself something of the noblest and loftiest character. And so is it one that is in a measure pleasurable, an excitement, a stimulus; nay, a luxury, --"the luxury of woe. It ought to be carried out in action,-not carried out, it becomes a mere stimulus, and causes a moral disease of the worst kind, the disease of “ Sentimentalism."

Let me not be thought to exaggerate, or to put undue importance upon it; but there is such a disease of the moral powers, and one that is most deeply injurious. Sympathy is given that we may share in and feel the grief of others, and from this be led to alleviate misery. And it is no harm to be susceptible of its influence; nay, to be acutely and exquisitely susceptible. But to indulge in the feeling, and to cut it away from the end ; this is to harden the heart to a degree which hardly can be understood in its magnitude.

And this is Sentimentalism, " the indulging of the feelings of sympathy as a stimulus and a mental excitement, without in any way aiding the distressed or diminishing the sum of Human Misery.”

Now I will say, that upon reading the biography of men of note in the world, some of the least generous, the most selfish, and the most devoid of all true feeling that the world has ever seen, as well as some of the most blood-thirsty and obdurate in heart, villains without pity and without remorse, have been of this kind.

Look at Rousseau,—the base, thieving, lying impostor ;-the man whose " Confessions” are a record so shameless of all that can degrade man, that the only thing that can in any way acquit him, is the assertion of his insanity;—the cold blooded wretch, whoso legitimate children, immediately after birth, were placed in a basket and fastened to the gates of the Foundling Hospital, with a studied and systematic prevention of all future recognition. And this wretched fellow, overflowed with the finest Sympathies !

But they made his stock in trade of Eloquence and Pathos. And he made his bread by it, such as it was. And to himself he was, while he lived, a cancerous misery, and to a nation after his death, the cause of infinite corruption and infinite sorrow. This is the character of Rousseau, I believe, fairly and moderately drawn; and I think I may say that the whole wretchedness of this most miserable man arose from no one thing, besides this, that, possessed of the finer feelings of Sympathy in the highest and naturally the most exquisitely organized mode, he indulged in the feelings, and the excitement, and stimulus arising from them, at the same time never carrying them out into action. And hence the highest gifts that might have ripened into the noblest character, and might even have corrected all the evils and disadvantages of his youth, actually perverted his nature, and aided in producing a heart thoroughly bad.

We have dwelt upon him so long that we have hardly time to mention any more, although the tenderness of Robespierre's Sympathies are we believe matter of History. And so of many other monsters of the same period. Suffice it to say that examples enough can be found in proof of our position, “that an indulgence in the feelings of Sympathy without carrying them out to the relief of actual distress, produces hardness of heart to such a degree that the most pitiless and cruel, the most licentious and unnatural, and ungrateful conduct shall be joined with the most overflowing and dreply thrilling sentiment.” And so shall natures that were intended to be of the noblest be turned into the basest and vilest.

Having thus illustrated our position, we will say, as a practical conclusion,—“When you feel the emotion of Sympathy towards distress-let it always issue forth in actions, and in relief of sorrow. Be even jealous of it having any other issue. Let it not give eloquence to your tongue in describing it, save that this be made a means to aid you in relief. Commit it not to paper eloquently, nay not at all, but turn the whole current of emotion unto the actual relief of wretchedness; and drain not one streamlet from the full channel to devote to aught magnifying self; and so upon your own heart and moral character in the fullest degree shall you

find the effects of this first and most blessed of all natural affections."

In fact, the highest and most ennobling of all actions of the moral faculty is the exercise of this quality under the laws that result from its own nature, and the laws of the governing powers generally. And if the many who are really and truly anxious to improve their moral nature by the natural means, and who now in vain seek it in books;—if the many Christians in the Church that wish to be ripened in their hearts for Heaven; if they only could feel and know in practical truth, the effect of that “Sympathy" ' which in secret, apart from all motives that may be selfish, feels" distress and misery, and at the same time relieves" and aids--if they knew this and acted upon it, there would be higher and loftier characters in society, and a deeper and most sanctified Christianity.

As the “ Law” then of “sympathy" we say that the "feeling” is good of itself morally when it is joined with the “ action,”—bad when it is indulged without the action; and as the rule we say"never indulge an emotion of Sympathy apart from an attempt to diminish the sum of misery.”

If you can relieve distress, do it subject to the law of Conscience and of Reason. If it is by any means out of your own power, utterly impossible—then at least you can pray to God through our Lord Jesus Christ for relief to the individual--for prayer is action of the highest and noblest kind; but never let an emotion of sympathy be excited in your heart that you do not aid misery in some way,—in this way at the least if none other be possible.

And never let it be turned by you in any way to yourself, your glory, your praise, your benefit, for it is best directed, according to its nature, when wholly and entirely it tends to the relief of another's wretchedness. Then best for your own nature when it is wholly directed to another.

Again,-be jealous of opportunities; and yourself, personally, come in contact with misery and distress for the sake of relieving them -delegate as little as you can to others, for in giving aid by the hand of another you give moneybut you give not that which is more precious than money, personal sympathy; and you

[ocr errors]

lose which is worth a great deal more to you, the moral schooling that the actual and personal exercise of this moral quality in your own Spiritual being shall give to your Heart.

Two questions more complete the examination of this subject. The first,

are we always to permit the feeling of sympathy when it arises ?" The second, " are we always to relieve distress when it occurs ?"

The first I think we can answer in the affirmative, provided first, that it be not forbidden by the Law of Conscience or the Law of the Spiritual Reason—that is, the law of God: and secondly, that the feeling be made to issue forth in action.

Again, I think it is manifest that Human misery is always to be diminished under the same conditions. For instance, a cheat and an impostor, or the vilest character you can conceive, is starvingand that in consequence of his own villainies, or his own profligate conduct,-if you give him money wherewith he may relieve his misery, reason and experience tell you that with that money he will purchase the means of debauchery; your Conscience and your reason both tell you therefore that the gift of money is wrongbut they tell you not that therefore you are to do nothing. The money was only for the purpose of relief of misery,--and that under the circumstances it could not relieve; this only excuses you from aid in that particular way-you are still bound to seek some other means, which shall effectually bring about the result.

Misery is, in all cases, so far as men are individually concerned, to be alleviated and put an end to. As far as men are not concerned individually, but where the obligation of the Family or the Nation is concerned, it is manifest that it is a different thing. Higher relations here come in; and the authoritative power of inflicting not merely pain, but actual misery for beneficial purposes, is a power which belongs primarily to God, but to them secondarily, as institutions organized by God, and serving to carry out his Law.

But with regard to personal misery between man and man, I think there is little doubt, that when the emotion of Sympathy carries us towards the relief of it, the failure of the readiest means, or even of many means does not at all excuse us from the obligation to relieve it, but only from the using of that particular means.

And secondly,—that it has been the consequence of sin or evil conduct, this by no means is an excuse from action of relief-but

[ocr errors]

between man and man, the misery of the individual man is ever to be relieved, and aid that shall do this under the above rules and limitations, never to be refused.

CHAPTER III.

Habit; Active and Passive. ---Passage from Butler quoted, and practically

applied.--Affectation.--Sentimentalism.-Unreality, or Romance.-Daydreaming.–Remedies for these diseases of the Moral Nature.

In our last chapter we treated upon “Sympathy," because we look upon it as the first of the Affections, and as the one which must go with all the rest in reference to our own moral improvement and our neighbour's; a peculiar moral element, that is capable of union with all the others, and therefore to be considered as antecedent to them all. There are some other powers of the same kind, which, if we consider them now as capable of being united with many of the affections, we shall thereby have clear ideas of them; if we leave them to be considered in their complication with other Affections, we shall be liable to great confusion and indistinctness.

And the first of these considerations is this: “Upon the Affections, what is the power and influence of Habit ?” There is an

emotion,for instance, of “Compassion;" there is an act of

Compassion ;" there is a habit of “ Compassion.” What is the moral value and the moral difference of these three modes of the one Affection? Wherein is the Habit more than the Emotion or the Act?

Upon this subject of Habit we shall enter in this chapter, and we clearly tell our readers that the chapter shall be little more than the remarks of Bishop Butler upon the point, with comments of our own, pointing out and illustrating the most important sentiments in the passage which we quote from him.

If this book be used in teaching Ethics, we advise the teacher, having himself practically realized, (which is to a teacher of Ethics the most valuable process of Ethical knowledge,) the influ

« السابقةمتابعة »