« VorigeDoorgaan »
and the qualities in the different objects by which their effects are produced. I suspect that, in many cases, we must be obliged to have recourse to the original constitution of our frame, and that the most penetrating philosophical inquiries can often go no farther than to say, Thus Nature has made us.
But whatever may be the original sources of our pleasure and pain, it is certain that there are various circumstances which may be pointed out, as adding to, or diminishing, both the one and the other ; circumstances by which the warmth of expectation may be heightened or allayed, and the pangs of disappointment increased or mitigated.
It is a common observation, the justice of which, I believe, will not be disputed, that every passion increases according to the difficulty there is in its gratification. When once a desire for a certain object is raised, every opposition which occurs to the at. tainment of it, provided it be not such as cuts off all hopes of succeeding, and every perplexity and embarrassment thrown in the way, when the mind is engaged in the pursuit, inflames the desire ; the object becomes heightened and exaggerated in our ideas, the mind grows more attached to it, and the expectation of enjoyment from the possession is in.
To account for this appearance in our nature, it may be observed, that nothing is so apt to make an object figure in the imagination, as to have our attention long and earnestly fixed upon it. This makes it appear in stronger and more lively colours. If it be an object of desire, it appears more and more calculated to give pleasure ; if an object of aversion, it appears more and more calculated to produce pain. Every time we view it, there is an addition made to the impression we have received. The sensations it has already given us still continue, and the passion it
has created receives additional force. If the object be pleasant, the mind dwells upon its good, if disa agreeable, upon its bad qualities : it broods over them, it amplifies, it exaggerates them. .
Now, no circumstance is so much calculated to fix the attention upon any particular object, as those difficulties which arise in our pursuit of it. The mind, unwilling to be overcome, cannot think of submitting to a defeat, or of giving up those expectations of enjoyment which it has formed. Every little opposition, therefore, that is met with, every obstruction thrown in the way, calls forth a fresh consideration of the object. We take a view of it in its every form, to try if we can get the better of those difficulties, and remove those obstructions, The object itself, meanwhile, gains complete possession of the soul. It swells and heightens in our ima. gination, and is no longer seen as it is by other men, nor as it would be by the same person, were other objects allowed to have place in his mind, or to di. vide his attention.
From this circumstance in our nature, that fixing our attention upon any one object, or set of objects, is apt to increase or heighten them in our imagination, a variety of remarks might be made, tending to illustrate the history of the human heart. It is ow. ing to this circumstance, that a general lover seldom forms an attachment to any particular object. ' It is from the same cause, that the gentleman, who follows no particular profession, seldom exaggerates the advantages of any one. It is the merchant; who limits his views solely to commerce, that sees in too strong a light the advantages of trade; it is the man of learning, who is shut up within the walls of a college, that exaggerates the advantages of litera. ture; it is the scholar, who confines himself to one branch of science, that is the complete pedant. The
moral philosopher wonders how any man can be occupied by the dry, unpleasant study of the mathematics, while the curious fabric of the human mind remains unexplored. The mathematician is equally surprized that any man should compare the certainty of mathematical evidence to the vague inquiries of the moral philosopher. The geometrician, who, by the intreaty of his friends, was prevailed with to read the Cid of Corneille, wondered that any body should admire a thing in which nothing was proved. And the learned Budaus, when he was writing his treatise concerning the Roman as, being interrupted by his maid-servant, who told him the house was on fire, bade her go tell his wife, for that he did not mind family-matters. What a pity is it,' says a learned foreign Professor, in writing to his Correspondent in this country,' what a pity is it, that the illustri•ous Dr. Franklin, the discoverer of electricity, and • the author of so many inventions in the sciences, o should descend from the sublime heights of philo. • sophy, to employ his time and study in directing • the trifling and unimportant contentions of na• tions!
It would far exceed the bounds of this paper to exhaust this subject, or to take notice of the different remarks which may be drawn from it, either with regard to human sentiments and conduct, or in relation to the fine arts.* I shall therefore confine myself to one other observation, on a point which has been treated of by Mr. Addison, in the 40th Number of The Spectator, where he justifies, against the ruling opinion at that time, the practice of those writers of tragedy, who disregard what are called the rules of poetical justice. To his defence of that practice, I think we may add one argument, which seems to have escaped him, drawn from the effect of
* See Elements of Criticism.
the opposition above mentioned, to heighten our passion for a particular object.
There is implanted in the mind of every man a desire that virtue should be followed by reward, and vice by punishment. But this desire, like every other, gathers new strength by opposition, and rises upon resistance. When, therefore, a virtuous man, amidst all his virtue, is represented as unhappy, that anxiety which we feel for his happiness becomes so much the greater ; the more undeserved calamities he meets with, the higher is that principle raised, by which we desire that he should attain an adequate reward; the more he is environed and perplexed with difficulties, the more earnestly do we wish that he may be delivered from them all; and, even when he is cut off by premature death, we follow his me. mory with the greater admiration ; and our respect and reverence for his conduct are increased so much the more, as all our prayers for his happiness in this life are disappointed.
On the other hand, with regard to the vicious, nothing excites so strongly our indignation against vice, or our desire that it should be punished, as our beholding the vicious successful, and, in the midst of his crimes, enjoying prosperity. Were we always to see the vicious man meeting with a proper punishe ment for his guilt, wretched and unhappy, oureager. ness for his punishment would subside, and our ha. tred against him would be converted into pity; his guilt would be forgotten, and his misfortunes only would affect us. Before the trial of an atrocious criminal, the unanimous voice of the Public is, that he should be led out to punishment. Suppose him condemned, how altered is that voice! His fate is now universally pitied and deplored; and, did not the safety of 'thousands depend on his suffering,
hardly, in any case, should we see the laws of justice finally put in execution.
There can be no good reason, therefore, for ob. serving the rules of what is called poetical justice. The effect which a departure from these rules produces, affords the highest possible testimony in favour of virtue. It shews that, where virtue meets with calamities and disappointments, this, instead of lessening it in our estimation, only attaches us so much the more warmly to its interests; and that, where vice is successful, instead of creating a feeling in its favour, this only increases our indignation against it. Were virtue always fortunate, were vice always unprosperous, that principle would be enfeebled, by which we desire the reward of the one, and the punishment of the other.
N° 78. SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 1780.
To the Author of the Mirror. SIR, The praises of friendship, and descriptions of the bappiness arising from it, I remember to have met with in almost every book and poem since first I could read. I was never much addicted to reading : and, in this instance, I think, I have little reason to put confidence in authors. How it may be in their experience, I know not; but, in mine, this same virtue of friendship has tended very little to my happiDess ; on the contrary, Sir, when I tell you my situ