Category Archives: Enlightenment

Item of the Day: Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon (1733)

Full Title: The Philosophical Works of Francis Bacon, Baron of Verulam, Viscount St. Albans, and Lord High-Chancellor of England; Methodized, and made English, from the Originals. With Occasional Notes, To explain what is obscure; and shew how far the several Plans of the Author, for the Advancement of all the Parts of Knowledge, have been executes to the Present Time. Vol. I. By Peter Shaw, M.D. London: Printed for J. J. and P. Knapton; D. Midwinter and A. Ward; A. Bettesworth and C. Hitch; J. Pemberton; J. Osborn and T. Longman; C. Rivington; F. Clay; J. Batley; R. Hett; and T. Hatchett, M.DCC.XXXIII. [1733].

SUPPLEMENT I.

THE NEW ATLANTIS; OR, A PLAN OF A SOCIETY

FOR THE PROMOTION OF KNOWLEDGE.

Delivered in the Way of Fiction.

PREFACE.

THE present Piece has, perhaps, been esteemed a greater Fiction than it is: The Form fo the History is purely imaginary; but the Things mentioned in it seem purely Philosophical; and, if Men would exert themselves, probably practical. But whilst our Minds labour under a kind of Despondency and Dejection, with regard to operative Philosophy; and refuse to put forth their strength; the Wings of Hope are clipped. And, in this situation, the mind seems scarce accessible but by Fiction. For plain Reason will here prove dull and languid; and even Works themselves rather stupefy than rouze and inform. Whence the prudent and seasonable use of Invention and Imagery, is a great Secret for winning over the Affections to Philosophy. We have here, as in miniature, a Summary of Universal Knowledge; Examples, Precepts and Models for improving the Mind in History, Geography, Chronology, Military Discipline, Civil Conversation, Morality, Policy, Physicks, &c whence it appears like a kind of Epitome, and farther Improvement of the Scheme of the Augmentis Scientiarum. The dignity and utility of the Design may appear from hence; that not only Mr. Cowley endeavoured to imitate it, in his Plan of a Philosophical Society; but even the Royal Society of London, and the Royal Academy of Paris, have, from their first Institution, employed themselves, and still continue employed, in its execution.

SECT. I.

1.  After a twelvemonth’s stay at Peru, we sailed from thence for China and Japan, by the South-Sea; and had fair Winds from the East, tho’ soft and gentle, for above five Months: then the Wind changed and settled in the West, for several days; so that we made little way, and sometimes purposed to sail back. But now there arose strong Winds from the South, one point to the East, which carried us to the North: by which time our Provisions failed us. And being thus amidst the greatest wilderness of Waters in the World, we gave ourselves for lost. Yet lifting up our hearts to God, who sheweth his wonders in the Deep; we besought him that as in the beginning he disclosed the face of the Deep, and made dry Land appear; so we might now discover Land, and not perish. The next day about Evening, we saw before us, towards the North, the appearance of thick Clouds, which gave us some hopes for as that part of the South-Sea was utterly unkown; we judged it migh have Islands or Continents, hitherto undiscovered. We, therefore, shaped our Course towards them, and in the dawn of the next day plainly discerned Land.

2.  After sailing an hour longer, we entered the Port of a fair city; not large, but well built, and affording an agreeable Prospect from the Sea. Upon offering to go on shore, we saw People with Wands in their hands, as it were forbidding us; yet without any Cry or Fierceness; but only warning us off by Signs. Whereupon we advised among ourselves what to do: when a small Boat presently made out to us, with about eight Persons in it; one whereof held in his hand a short, yellow Cane, tipped at both ends with blue; who made on board our Ship, without any shew of distrust. And seeing one of our number present himself somewhat at the head of the rest, he drew out, and delivered to him, a little Scroll of yellow polish’d Parchment, wherein were written in ancient Hebrew, ancient Greek, Latin of the School, and in Spanish, these Words: Land ye not, and provide to be gone within sixteen days; except ye have farther time given you: but if ye want fresh Water, Provision, Help for your Sick, or Repair for your Ship, write down your Wants, and ye shall have what belongs to Mercy. The Scroll was sealed with Cherubims Wings, and a Cross.

3.  This being deliver’d, the Officer return’d, and left only a Servant to receive our Answer. Our Answer was, in Spanish, That our Ship wanted no Repair; for we had rather met with Calms and contrary Winds, than Tempests: but our Sick were many; so that if not permitted to land, their Lives were in danger. Our other Wants we set down in particualr; adding, that we had some little store of Merchandize; which, if they pleased to traffick for, might supply our Wants, without being burdensome to them. We offered Money to the Servant; and a Piece of Crimson Velvet to be presented the Officer: but the Servant took them not; and would scarce look upon them: so left us, and retun’d in another little Boat that was went for him.

4.  About three Hours after our Answer was dispatch’d, there came to us a Person of Figure. He had on a Gown with wide Sleeves, a kind of Water-Camblet, of an excellent and bright Azure; his under Garment was green, so was his Hat, being in the form of a Turban, curiously made; his Hair hanging below the Brims of it. He came in a boat, some part of it gilt, along with four other Persons; and was follow’d by another Boat, wherein were twenty. When he was come within bow-shot of our Ship, Signals were made to us, that we should send out our boat to meet him; which we presently did, manned with the principal Person amongst us but one, and four of our number with him. When we came within six Yards of their Boat, they bid us approach no farther: we obeyed; and thereupon the Person of Figure, before described, stood up and, with a loud Voice, in Spanish, asked, Are ye Christians? We answered, yes; fearing the less, because of the Cross we had seen in the Signet. At which Answer, the said Person lift up his right Hand towards Heaven, and drew it softly to his Mouth; a Gesture they use when they thank God, and then said; If ye will swear by the Merits of the Saviour, that ye are no Pirates; nor have shed Blood, lawfully or unlawfully, within forty Days past; ye have Licence to come on shore. We said, we were all ready to take the Oath. Whereupon, one of those that were with him, being, as it appear’d, a Notary, made an entry of this Act. Which done, another of the Attendants in the same Boat, after his Lord had spoke to him, said aloud; My Lord would have ye know, that it is not out of Pride, or Greatness, that he does not come on board your Ship; but as in your Answer, you declare you have many sick among you, he was warned by the City-Conservator of Health to keep at a distance. We bowed ourselves, and answered, we accounted what was already done a great Honour, and singular Humanity; but hoped, that the Sickness of our Men was not infectious. Then he returned. . . .

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under 1600's, 1700's, Culture, Eighteenth century, Enlightenment, Fiction, Modern Language Translations, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Reason

Item of the Day: Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1793)

Full Title: Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. By Dugald Stewart. Philadelphia: Printed by William Young, Bookseller, No. 52, Second-Street, the Corner of Chestnut-Street, M, DCC, XCIII.

INTRODUCTION.

PART FIRST.

Of the Nature and Object of the Philosophy of the Human Mind.

 

THE prejudice which is commonly entertained against metaphysical speculations seems to arise chiefly from two causes: First, from an apprehension that the subjects about which they are employed, are placed beyond the reach of the human faculties; and , secondly, from a belief that these subjects have no relation to the business of life.

The frivoulus and absurd discussions which abound in the writings of most metaphysical authors, afford but too many arguments in justification of these opinions; and if such discussions were to be admitted as a fair specimen of what the human mind is able to accomplish in this department of science, the contempt, into which it has fallen of late, might with justice be regarded, as no inconsiderable evidence of the progress, which true philosophy has made in the present age. Among the various subjects of the inquiry, however, which, inconsequence of the vague use of language, are comprehended under the title of metaphysics, there are some, which are essentially distinguished from the rest, both by the degree of evidence which accompanies their principles, and by the relation which they bear to the useful sciences and arts: and it has unfortunately happened, that these have shared in that general descredit, into which the other branches of metaphysics have fallen. To this circumstance is probably to be ascribed, the little progress which has hitherto been made in the PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN MIND; a science, so interesting in its nature, and so important in its applications, that it could scarcely have failed, in these inquisitive and enlightened times, to have excited a very general attention, if it had not acceidentally been classed, in the public opinion with the vain and unprofitable disquisitions of the school-men.

In order to obviate these misapprehensions, with respect to the subject of the following work, I have thought it proper, in this preliminary chapter, first, to explain, the nature of the truths which I propse to investigate; and, secondly, to point out some of the more important applications of which they are susceptible. In stating these preliminary observations I may perhaps appear to some to be minute and tedious; but this fault, I am confident, will be readily pardoned by those, who have studied with care the principles of that science of which I am to treat; and who are anxious to remove the prejudices which have, in a great measure, excluded it from the modern systems of education. In the progress of my work, I flatter myself that I shall often have occasion to solicit the indulgence of my readers, for an unnecessary diffuseness.

The notions we annex to the words, matter, and mind, as is well remarked by Dr. Reid,* are merely relative. If I am asked what I mean by matter? I can only explain myself by saying, it is that which is extended, figured, couloured, movable, hard or soft, rough or smooth, hot or cold; –that is, I can define it no other way, than by enumerating its sensible qualities. It is not matter, or body, which I perceive by my senses; but only extension, figure, colour, and certain other qualities, which the constitution of my nature leads me to refer to something, which is extended, figured, and coloured. The case is precisely similar with respect to mind. We are not immediately conscious of its existence, but we are conscious of sensation, thought, and volition; operations, which imply the existence of something which feels, thinks, and wills. Every man too is impressed with the irresisitible conviction, that all these sensations, thoughts, and volitions, belong to one and the same being; to that being, which he calls himself; a being, which he is led, by the constitution of his nature, to consider as something distinct from his body, and as not liable to be impaired by the loss or mutilation of any of his organs.

From these considerations, it appears, that we have the same evidence for the existence of mind, that we have for the existence of body; nay, if there be any difference between the two cases, that we have stronger evidence for it; inasmuch as the one is suggested to us, by the subjects of our own consciousness, and the other merely by the objects of our perceptions: and in this light, undoubtedly, the fact would appear to every person, were it not, that, from our earliest years, the attention is engrossed with the qualities and laws of matter, an acquaintance with which is absolutely necessary for the preservation of our animal existence. Hence it is, that these phenomena occupy our thoughts more than those of mind; that we are perpetually tempted to explain the latter by tha analogy of the former, and even to endeavour to refer them to the same general laws; and that we acquire habits of inattention to the subjects of our consciousness, too strong to be afterwards surmounted, without the most persevering industry.

If the foregoing observations be well founded, they establish the distinction between mind and matter, without any long process of metaphysical reasoning: for if our notions of both are merely relative; if we know the one, only by such sensible qualities as extension, figure, and solidity; and the other, by such operations as sensation, thought, and volition; we are certainly entitled to say, that in so far as body and mind are known to us, they appear to be substances of different natures. Perhaps, indeed, it would be more accurate to say of the scheme of materialism, that it is inconceivable, than it is false; –for let us consider only what it implies: Is it not the object of those who propose it, to explain the nature of that substance which feels, thinks, and wills? But when they attempt to do so, by saying that it is material, they surely forget, that body, as well as mind, is known to us by its qualities and attibutes alone, and that we are as ignorant of the nature of the former, as of that of the latter.

As all our knowledge of the material world is derived from the information of our senses, natural philosophers have, in modern times, wisely abandoned to metaphysicians, all speculations concerning the nature of that substance of which it is composed; concerning the possibility or impossibility of its being created; concerning the efficient causes of the changes which take place in it; and even concerning the reality of its existence, independent of that of percipient beings: and have confined themselves to the humbler province of observing the phenomena it exhibits, and of ascertaining their general laws. By pursuing this plan steadily, they have, in the course of the two last centuries, formed a body of science, which not only does honour to the human understanding, but has had a most important influence on the practical arts of life. —This experimental philosophy, no one now is in danger of confounding with the metaphysical speculations already mentioned. Of the importance of these, as a seperate [sic] branch of study, it is possible that some may think more favourably than others; but they ware obviously different in their nature, from the investigations of physics; and it is of the utmost consequence to the evidence of this last science, that its principles should not be blended with those of the former. . . .

*Essays on the Active Powers of Man.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1790's, Enlightenment, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense (1817)

Full Title: An Inquiry into the Human Mind, on the Principles of Common Sense. By Thomas Reid. Glasgow: Printed by W. Falconer, and sold by the booksellers, 1817.

[First published 1764].

TO

THE RIGHT HONOURABLE

JAMES, EARL OF FINDLATER AND SEAFIELD

CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OLD ABERDEEN

My Lord,

Though I apprehend that there are things new and of some importance, in the following inquiry, it is not without timidity that I have consented to the publicaiton of it. The subject has been canvassed by men of very great penetration and genius: for who does not acknowledge DES CARTES, MALEBRANCHE, LOCKE, BERKELEY, and HUME, to be such? A view of the human understanding, so different from that which they have exhibited, will, no doubt, be condemened by many without explanation, as proceeding from temerity and vanity.

BUT I hope the candid and discerning Few, who are capable of attending to the operations of their own minds, will weigh deliberately what is here advanced, before they pass sentence upon it. To such I appeal, as the only competent judges. If they disapprove, I am probably in the wrong, and shall be ready to change my opinion upon conviction. If they approve, the Many will at last yield to their authority, as they always do.

HOWEVER contrary my notions are to those of the writers I have mentioned, their speculations have been of great use to me, and seem even to point out the road which I have taken: and your Lordship knows, that the merit of useful discoveries is sometimes not more justly due to those that have hit upon them, than to others that have ripened them, and brought them to the birth.

I ACKNOWLEDGE, my Lord, that I never thought of calling in question the principles commonly received with regard to human understanding, until the Treatise of Human Nature was published in the year 1739. The ingenious author of that treatise, upon the principles of LOCKE, who was no sceptic, hath built a system of scepticism, which leaves no ground to believe any one thing rather than the contrary. His reasoning appeared to me to be just: there was therfore a necessity to call in question the principles upon which it was founded, or to admit the conclusion.

BUT can any ingenuous mind admit this sceptical system without reluctance? I truly could not, my Lord: for I am persuaded, that absolute scepticism is not more destructive of the faith of a Christian, than  of the science of a philospher, and of the prudence of a man of common understanding. I am persuaded, that the unjust live by faith as well as the just; that, if all belief could be laid aside, piety, patriotism, friendship, parental affection, and private virtue, would appear as ridiculous as knight-errantry; and that the pursuits of pleasure, of ambition, and of avarice, must be grounded upon belief, as well as those that are honourable or virtuous.

THE day-labourer toils at his work, in the belief that he shall receive his wages at night; and if he had not this belief he would not toil. We may venture to say, that even the author of this sceptical system, wrote it in the belief that it should be read and regarded. I hope he wrote it in the belief also, that it would be useful to mankind: and perhaps it may prove so at last. For I conceive the sceptical writers to be a set of men, whose business is to pick holes in the fabric of knowledge wherever it is weak and faulty; and when these places are properly repaired, the whole building becomes more firm and solid than it was formerly.

FOR my own satisfaction, I entered into a serious examination of the principles upon which this sceptical system is built; and was not a little surprised to find, that, it leans with its whole weight upon a hypothesis, which is ancient indeed, and hath been very generally received by philosophers, but of which I could find no solid proof. The hypothesis I mean, is, That nothing is perceived but what is in the mind which perceives it: That we do not really perceive things that are external, but only certain images and pictures of them imprinted upon the mind, which are called impressions and ideas.

IF this be true; supposing certain impressions and ideas to exist in my mind, I cannot, from their existence, infer the existence of any thing else: my impressions and ideas are the only existences of which I can have any knowledge or conception; and they are such fleeting and transitory beings, that they can have no existence at all, any longer than I am conscious of them. So that, upon this hypothesis, the whole universe about me, bodies and spirits, sun, moon, stars, and earth, friends and relations, all things without exception, which I imagined to have permanent existence, whether I thought of them or not, vanish at once;

And, like the baseless fabric of a vision,

Leave not a track behind.

I THOUGHT it unreasonable, my Lord, upon the authority of philosophers, to admit a hypothesis, which, in my opinion, overturns all philosophy, all religion and virtue, and all common sense: and finding that all the systems concerning the human understanding which I was acquainted with, were built upon this hypothesis, I resolved to inquire into this subject anew, without regard to any hypothesis.

WHAT I now humbly present to your Lordship, is the fruit of this inquiry, so far only as it regards the five senses; in which I claim no other merit, than that of having given great attention to the operations of my own mind, and of having expressed, with all the perspicuity I was able, what I conceive every man, who gives the same attention, will feel and perceive. The productions of imagination, require a genius which soars above the common rank; but the treasures of knowledge are commonly buried deep, and may be reached by those drudges who can dig with labour and patience, though they have not wings to fly. The experiments that were to be made in this investigation suited me, as they required no other expence, but that of time and attention, which I could bestow. The leisure of an academical life, disengaged from the pursuits of interest and ambition; the duty of my profession, which obliged me to give prelections on these subjects to the youth; and an early inclination to speculations of this kind, –have enabled me, as I flatter myself, to give a more minute attention to the subject of this inquiry, than has been given before.

MY thoughts upon this subject were, a good many years ago, put together in another form, for the use of my pupils, and afterwards were submitted to the judgment of a private philosophical society, of which I have the honour to be a member. A great part of this inquiry was honoured even by your Lordship’s perusal. And the encouragement which you, my Lord, and others, whose friendship is my boast, and whose judgment I reverence, were pleased to give me, counterbalance my timidity and diffidence, and determined me to offer it to the public.

IF it appears to your Lordship to justify the common sense and reason of mankind, against the sceptical subtilties which, in this age, have endeavoured to put them out of countenance; if it appears to throw any new light upon one of the noblest parts of the divine workmanship; your Lordship’s respect for the arts and sciences, and your attention to every thing which tends to the improvement of them, as well as to every thing else that contributes to the felicity of your country, leave me no room to doubt of your favourable acceptance of this essay, as the fruit of my industry in a profession wherein I was accountable to your Lordship; and as a testimony of the great esteem and respect wherewith I have the honour to be,

My Lord,

Your Lordship’s most obliged,

and most devoted servant,

Tho. Reid.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under 1760's, Common sense, Enlightenment, Philosophy, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Adventurer (1770)

Full Title:  The ADVENTURER. By John Hawkesworth. Volume the Fourth.  New Edition.  London:  Printed for W. Strahan, J. and F. Rivington, etc.  MDCCLXX.

Tuesday, November 27, 1753.

The evils inseparably annexed to the present condition of man, are so numerous and afflictive, that it has been, from age to age, the task of some to bewail, and of others to solace them;  and he, therefore, will be in danger of seeming a common enemy, who shall attempt to depreciate the few pleasures and felicities which nature has allowed us.

Yet I will confess, that I have sometimes employed my thoughts in examining the pretensions that are made to happiness, by the splendid and envied conditions of life; and have not thought the hour unprofitably spent, when I have detected the imposture of counterfeit advantages, and found disquiet lurking under false appearances of gaiety and greatness.

It is asserted by a tragic poet, that “est miser nemo nisi comparatus,” “no man is miserable but as he is compared with others happier than himself:” this position is not strictly and philosophically true.  He might have said, with rigorous propriety, that no man is happy but as he is compared with the miserable; for such is the state of this world, that we find in it absolute misery, but happiness only comparative; we may incur as much pain as we can possibly endure, though we can never obtain as much happiness as we might possibly enjoy.

Yet it is certain likewise, that many of our miseries are merely comparative:  we are often made unhappy, not by the presence of any real evil, but by the absence of some fictitious good, of something which is not required by any real want of nature, which has not in itself any power of gratification, and which neither reason nor fancy would have prompted us to wish, did we not see it in the possession of others.

For a mind diseased with vain longings after unattainable advantages, no medicine can be prescribed, but an impartial enquiry into the real worth of that which is so ardently desired.  It is well known, how much the mind, as well as the eye, is deceived by distance; and, perhaps, it will be found, that of many imagined blessings it may be doubted, whether he that wants or possesses them has more reason to be satisfied with his lot.

The dignity of high birth and long extraction, no man, to whom nature has denied it, can confer upon himself; and, therefore, it deserves to be considered, whether the want of that which can never be gained, may not easily be endured.  It is true, that if we consider the triumph and delight with which most of those recount their ancestors who have ancestors to recount, and the artifices by which some who have risen to unexpected fortune endeavour to insert themselves into an honourable stem, we shall be inclined to fancy that wisdom or virtue may be had by inheritance, or that all the excellencies of a line of progenitors are accumulated on their descendant.  Reason, indeed, will soon inform us, that our estimation of birth is arbitrary and capricious, and that dead ancestors can have no influence but upon imagination:  let it then be examined, whether one dream may not operate in the place of another; whether he that owes nothing to fore-fathers, may not receive equal pleasure from the consciousness of owing all to himself; whether he may not, with a little meditation, find it more honourable to found than to continue a family, and to gain dignity than transmit it; whether, if he receives no dignity from the virtues of his family, he does not likewise escape the danger of being disgraced by their crimes; and whether he that brings a new name into the world, has not the convenience of playing the game of life without a stake, an opportunity of winning much though he has nothing to lose.

There is another opinion concerning happiness, which approaches much more nearly to universality, but which may, perhaps, with equal reason be disputed.  The pretensions to ancestral honours many of the sons of earth easily see to be ill-grounded; but all agree to celebrate the advantage of  hereditary riches, and to consider those as the minions of fortune, who are wealthy from their cradles, whose estate is “res non parta labore sed relicta;” “the acquisition of another, not of themselves; ” and whom a father’s industry has dispensed from a laborious attention to arts and commerce, and left at liberty to dispose of life as fancy shall direct them.

If every man were wise and virtuous, capable to discern the best use of time, and resolute to practice it; it might be granted, I think, without hesitation, that total liberty would be a blessing; and that it would be desirable to be left at large to the exercise of religious and social duties, without the interruption of importunate avocations.

But since felicity is relative, and that which is the means of happiness to one man may be to another the cause of misery, we are to consider, what state is best adapted to human nature in its present degeneracy and frailty.  And, surely, to far the greater number it is highly expedient, that they should by some settled scheme of duties be rescued from the tyranny of caprice, that they should be driven on by necessity through the paths of life with their attention confined to a stated task, that they may be less at leisure to deviate into mischief at the call of folly.

When we observe the lives of those whom an ample inheritance has let loose to their own direction, what do we discover that can excite our energy?  Their time seems not to pass with much applause from others, or satisfaction to themselves:  many squander their exuberance of fortune in luxury and debauchery, and have no other use of money than to inflame their passions, and riot in a wider range of licentiousness; others, less criminal indeed, but surely, not much to be praised, lie down to sleep, and rise up to trifle, are employed every morning in finding expedients to rid themselves of the day, chase pleasure through all the places of public resort, fly from London to Bath and from Bath to London, without any other reason for changing place, but that they go in quest of company as idle and as vagrant as themselves, always endeavouring to raise some new desire that they may have something to pursue, to rekindle some hope which they know will be disappointed, changing one amusement for another which a few months will make equally insipid, or sinking into languor and disease for want of something to actuate their bodies or exhilarate their minds.

Whoever has frequented those places, where idlers assemble to escape from solitude, knows that this is generally the state of the wealthy; and from this state it is no great hardship to be debarred.  No man can be happy in total idleness:  he that should be condemned to lie torpid and motionless, “would fly for recreation,” says South, “to the mines and the gallies,” and it is well, when nature or fortune find employment for those, who would not have known how to procure it for themselves.

He, whose mind is engaged by the acquision or improvement of a fortune, not only escapes the insipidity of indifference, and the tediousness of inactivity, but gains enjoyments wholly unknown to those, who live lazily on the toil of others; for life affords no higher pleasure, than that of surmounting difficulties, passing from one step of success to another, forming new wishes, and seeing them gratified.  He that labours in any great or laudable undertaking, has his fatigues first supported by hope, and afterwards rewarded by joy; he is always moving to a certain end, and when he has attained it, an end more distant invites him to a new pursuit.

It does not, indeed, always happen, that diligence is fortunate; the wisest schemes are broken by unexpected accidents; the most constant perseverance sometimes toils through life without a recompense:  but labour, though unsuccessful, is more eligible than idleness:  he that prosecutes a lawful purpose by lawful means, acts always with the approbation of his own reason; he is animated through the course of his endeavours by an expectation which, though not certain, he knows to be just; and is at last comforted in his disappointment, by the consciousness that he has not failed by his own fault.

That kind of life is most happy which affords us most opportunities of gaining our own esteem; and what can any man infer in his own favour from a condition to which, however prosperous, he contributed nothing, and which the vilest and weakest of the species would have obtained by the same right, had he happened to be the son of the same father.

To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next, is to strive, and deserve to conquer:  but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; and if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to insensibility.

Thus it appears that the satirist advised right, when he directed us to resign ourselves to the hands of Heaven, and to leave to superior power the determination of our lot:
Intrust thy fortune to the pow’rs above:

Leave them to manage for thee, and to grant

What their unerring wisdom sees thee want.

In goodness as in greatness they excel:

Ah! that we lov’d ourselves but half so well.

DRYDEN.

What state of life admits most happiness, is uncertain; but that uncertainty ought to repress the petulance of comparison, and silence the murmurs of discontent.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1750's, Culture, England, Enlightenment, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times (1758)

Full Title: An Estimate of the Manners and Principles of the Times. By John Brown. Seventh Edition. London, Printed;  Boston, New-England: Re-printed and sold by Green and Russell, at their Printing-Office in Queen-Street, MDCCLVIII.

PART I.

A Delineation of the Ruling Manners and Principles.

 SECT. I.

THE DESIGN.

SUPERFICIAL, though zealous, Observers, think they see the Source of all our public Miscarriages in the particular and accidental Misconduct of Individuals. This is not much to be wondered at, because it is so easy a Solution.

THIS pretence, too, is plausibly urged upon the People by profligate Scribblers, who find their Account in it. It is a sort of Compliment paid the Public, to persuade them, that they have no Share in the Production of these national Misfortunes.

BUT a candid and mature Consideration will convince us, that the Malady lies deeper than what is commonly suspected: and, on impartial Enquiry, it will probably be found springing, not from varying and incidental, but from permanent and established Causes.

 It is the Observation of the greatest of political Writers, that “it is by no means Fortune that rules the World; for this we may appeal to the Romans, who had a long Series of Prosperities, when they acted upon a certain Plan; and an uninterrupted Course of Misfortunes, when they conducted themselves upon another. There are general Causes, natural or moral, which operate in every State; which raise, support, or overturn it.” *

Among all these various Causes, none perhaps so much contributes to raise or sink a Nation, as the Manners and Principles of its People. But as there never was any declining Nation, which had not Causes of Declension peculiar to itself, so it will require a minute Investigation in the leading Manners and Principles of the present Time, to throw a just Light on the peculiar causes of our calamitous Situation.

To delineate these Manners and Principles without Aggravation or Weakness, to unravel their Effects on the publick State and Welfare, and to trace them to their real though distant Sources, is indeed a Task of equal Difficulty and Importance.

IT may be necessary therefore to apologize even for the Attempt; as being supposed to lie beyond the Sphere of him who makes it. To this it can only be replied, that a common Eye may possibly discover a lurking Rock or Sand, while the able and experienced Mariners overlook the Danger, through their Attention to the Helm, the Sails or the Rigging.

He will be much mistaken, who expects to find here a Vein of undistinguishing and licentious Satire. To rail at the Times at large, can serve no good Purpose: and generally ariseth from a Want of Knowledge or a Want of Honesty. There never was an Age or a Nation that had not Virtues and Vices peculiar to itself: And in some Respects, perhaps, there is no Time nor Country delivered down to us in Story, in which a wise Man would so much wish to have lived, as in our own.

NOTWITHSTANDING this, our Situation seems most dangerous: We are rolling to the Brink of a Precipe that must destroy us.

AT such a Juncture, to hold up a true Mirror to the Public, and let the Nation see themselves as the Authors of their own Misfortunes, cannot be a very popular Design. But as the Writer is not sollicitous about private Consequence, he can with the greater Security adopt the Words of an honest and Sensible Man.

“MOST commonly, such as palliate Evils, and represent the State of Things in a sounder Condition than truly they are, do thereby consult best for themselves, and better recommend their own Business and Pretensions in the World: But he who, to the utmost of his Skill and Power, speaks the Truth, where the Good of his King and Country are concerned, will be most esteemed by Persons of Virtue and Wisdom: And to the Favour and Protection of such, these Papers are committed.” **

 

* “Ce n’est pas la Fortune qui domine le Monde: on peut le demander aux Romains, qui eurent une suite continuelle des Prosperites quand ils se gouvernerent sur un certain Plan, & une suitenon interrompue de revers lors qu’ils se conduisirent sur un autre. Il y a des Causes generales, soit morales, soit physiques, qui agissent dans chaque Monarchie, l’elevent, la maintiennent, ou la precipitent” — Grandeur, &c. des Romains, c. 18.

 ** Dr. Davenant, on Trade.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1750's, Culture, Enlightenment, Great Britain, Posted by Caroline Fuchs