« PreviousContinue »
shows of sanctity, good-nature, generosity, or some virtue or other,—too specious to be seen throughtoo amiable and disinterested to be suspected. These hints may be sufficient to show how hard it is to come at the matter of fact--But one may go a step farther,—and say, that even that, in many cases, could we come to the knowledge of it, is not sufficient by itself to pronounce a man either good or bad. There are numbers of circumstances which attend every action of a man's life, which can never come to the knowledge of the world,—yet ought to be known and well weighed, before sentence with any justice can be passed upon him.-A man may have different views and a different sense of things from which his judges have ; and what he understands and feels, and what passes within him, may be a secret treasured up deeply there forever.-A man, through bodily infirmity, or some complexional defect, which perhaps, is not in his power to correct-may be subject to inadvertencies,-to starts -and unhappy turns of temper ; he
open to snares he is not always aware of; or, through ignorance and want of information and proper helps, he may labour in the dark :-in all which cases, he may do many things which are wrong in themselves, and yet be innocent ;-at least an object rather to be pitied than censured with severity and ill-will. These are difficulties which stand in every one's way in the forming a judgment of the characters of others.--But, for once, let us suppose them all to be got over, so that we could see the bottom of every man's heart ;-let us allow that the word rogue or honest man, was wrote so legibly in every man's face, that no one could possible mis. take it -- yet still the happiness of both the one and
the other, which is the only fact that can bring the charge home, is what we have so little certain knowledge of,—that, bating some flagrant instances, whenever we venture to pronounce upon it, our decisions are little more than random
5,-For who can search the heart of man ?-it is treacher. ous even to ourselves, and much more likely to impose upon others. Even in laughter (if you will be. lieve Solomon) the heart is sorrowful :--the mind sits drooping, whilst the countenance is gay !_and even he, who is the object of envy to those who look no farther than the surface of his estate,-may appear, at the same time, worthy of compassion to those who know his private recesses. Besides this, a man's unhappiness is not to be ascertained so much from what is known to have befallen him,as from his particular turn and cast of mind, and. capacity of bearing it.-Poverty, exile, loss of fame or friends, the death of children, the dearest of all pledges of a man's happiness, make not equal im. pressions upon every temper.—You will see one man undergo, with scarce the expense of a sighwhat another, in the bitterness of his soul, would go mourning for all his life long ;-nay, a hasty word, or an unkind look, to a soft and tender nature, will strike deeper than a sword to the hardened and senseless. If these reflections hold true with regard to misfortunes, they are the same with regard to enjoyments :-we are formed differently,--have different tastes and perceptions of things ;-by the force of habit, education, or a particular cast of mind, -it happens, that neither the use or possession of the same enjoyments and advantages, produce the same happiness and contentment;- but that it dif
fers in every man almost, according to his temper and conmplexion ;-so that the self-same happy accidents in life, which shall give raptures to the cholerick or sanguine man, shall be received with indifference by the cold and phlegmatick; _and so oddly perplexed are the accounts of both human happiness and misery in this world, that trifles, light as air, shall be able to make the hearts of some men sing for joy ;-at the same time that others, with real blessings and advantages, without the power of using them, have their hearts heavy and discontented.
Alas! if the principles of contentment are not within us,-the height of station and worldly grandeur will as soon add a cubit to a man's stature as to his happiness.
This will suggest to us how little a way we have gone towards the proof of any man's happiness, in barely saying,-Lo! this man prospers in the world !-and this man has riches in possession !
When a man has got much above us, we take it for granted that he sees some glorious prospects, and feels some mighty pleasures from his height; whereas,' could we get up to him, it is great odds whether we should find any thing to make us tolerable amends for the pains and trouble of climbing up so high-nothing, perhaps, but more dangers and more troubles still ;-and such a giddiness of head besides, as to make a wise man wish he was well down again upon the level.—To calculate, therefore, the happiness of mankind by their stations and honours, is the most deceitful of all rules :great, no doubt, is the happiness which a moderate fortune, and moderate desires, with a consciousness
of virtue, will secure a man. Many are the silent pleasures of the honest peasant, who rises cheerfully to his labour.-Look into his dwelling-(where the scene of every man's happiness chiefly lies);he has the same domestick endearments-as much joy and comfort in his children, and as flattering hopes of their doing well,—to enliven his hours and glad his heart, as you could conceive in the most
affluent station :-and I make no doubt, in general, * but, if the true account of his joys and sufferings were to be balanced with those of his betters,—that the upshot would prove to be little more than this, Fhat the rich man had the more meat,—but the voor man the better stomach :the one had more laxury, more able physicians to attend and set him to tights ;--the other, more health and soundness in his bones, and less occasion for their help : that, after these two articles betwixt them were balanced,
in all other things they were upon a level. That the sun shines as warm,--the air blows as fresh, and thie earth breathes as fragrant, upon the one as the other; and that they have an equal share in all the beauties and real benefits of nature. These hints may be sufficient to shew what I proposed from them,
the difficulties which attend us in judging truly either of the happiness or the misery of the bulk of mankind,--the evidence being still more defective in this case (as the matter of fact is hard to come at)
than even in that of judging of their true characeters, of both which, in general, we have such im. perfect knowledge, as will teach us candour in our determination's upon each other.
But the main purport of this discourse is, to teach us humility in our reasonings upon the ways of the Almighty.
That things are dealt unequally in this world, is one of the strongest natural arguments for a future state, and, therefore, is not to be overthrown; nevertheless, I am persuaded the charge is far from being as great as at first sight it may appear ;-or, it if is, that our views of things are so narrow and confined, that it is not in our power to make it good.
But suppose it otherwise,--that the happiness and prosperity of bad men were as great as our general complaints make them, and what is not the case). --that we were not able to clear up the matter, or answer it reconcileably with God's justice and providence,—what shall we infer?-Why, the most becoming conclusion is,- That it is one instance more, out of many others, of our ignorance.-Why should this or any other religious difficulty he cannot com prehend,why should it alarm him more than ten thousand other difficulties which every day elude his most exact and attentive search ?-Does not the meanest flower in the field, or the smallest blade of grass, baffle the understanding of the most penetrat-, ing mind ?-Can the deepest enquiries after nature tell us, upon what particular size and motion of parts the various colours and tastes of vegetables depend ?--why one shrub is laxative,--another astringent ?why arsenick or hellebore should Jay waste this noble frame of ours ?--or opium lock up all the inroads to 'our senses, and plunder us, in so merciless a manner of reason and understanding? -Nay, have not the most obvious things that come in our way, dark sides, which the quickest sight cannot penetrate into ? and do not the clearest and most exalted understandings find themselves puze zled, and at a loss, in every particle of matter ?