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The book of nature, and the book of the world, lie open to you; books little read by the Grotius's and the Barbeyracs. There, with the assistance of the knowledge you have already acquired, and will hereafter increase, in your study, you will comment on men and manners; always measuring the morality of actions by the golden canon already repeated, of doing to others as you wish they should do unto 3/ozz. I am, &c.
My Lord, o I Must repeat my caution against the casuistry which the great writers on ethics have involuntarily introduced. A good heart and a good understanding, assisted by a virtuous and liberal education, will seldom err in deciding on the rectitude or obliquity of actions. But he who is accustomed to suppose nice cases of conscience, and to make curious exceptions and distinctions in morality, will, whenever he is inclined, find it no difficult task to vindicate, by ingenious sophisms, any villainy. Hence the sophistry and false philosophy which disgrace the age. Systematic ethics and casuistry, however ingenious, are, for the most part, to be considered as curious subjects for speculation, as fine exercises for the reasoning powers, and as pleasing amusements for the contemplative. When you act, consult your conscience; consult experience, consult prudence, con
sult real life; and discard chimeras of perfection. My Lord, I have hitherto said little upon Religion. I reserve that subject for our future correspondence. But I cannot leave the subject of ethics, without giving you my idea, that in the Gospels, and the excellent sermons to which they have given rise in the English language, you will find, as might be expected, the best code of moral law which the world ever knew. Philosophy, sublimed by religion, comes out, like metals refined by the fire. And let me entreat you, not to be deterred either from hearing or reading good sermons, by the preJudices of the profligate and the infidel. In these you will find morality taught and enforced with the powers of human eloquence, and under the sanction of divine authority. Some of our divines were fine classical scholars, and most profound philosophers; so that in them you will discover the beauties of style, the finest ethics, derived indeed, in some iheasure, from heathen philosophy, but improved and enforced by religion. Before I leave the subject of ethics, which is indeed a very copious one, but which I abridge, for the sake of avoiding unnecessary details, let me recommend to your reading, Wollaston's Religion of Nature. It will agreeably exercise your understanding, though you should disapprove the systematical form. You may detect some mistakes in it; you may think it too mathematical in its method and argumentation, but it is full of fine truth; and the marginal notes are pregnant with most valuable instruction, derived from the great masters of antiquity.
LETTER XXVII. My LoftD, Though Economics are not usually taught in our modern schools, they are worthier of attention, than many things which occupy the time of the student, and inflate him with the self-conceit of profound erudition. You must have observed how many, both noblemen and commoners, with ample inheritances, are reduced to a state of pecuniary distress. Much of it certainly arises from their profusion: but perhaps Inore from their neglect of economy. They are unwilling to inspect the state of their finances, from habitual indolence; and they are also too often unable to adjust their accounts, through ignorance of arithmetic. The more involved their accounts become, the more disagreeable, because the more laborious is the task of examining them. They at last give up the whole in despair, and suffer every thing relating to their finances to be conducted by persons who are indifferent to their employer's interest, and attentive solely to their own. I recommend, indeed, a personal attention to your estate; but not a mean parsimony. I recommend it, that you may have it in your power to be both just and generous; to pay your debts with punctuality, and to give and spend liberally. Independence is one of the daughters of economy. Your frugality should be the fountain of your munificence. The reservoir, without this care, however large, will be often exhausted. But I must protest, with peculiar earnestness, against the character of a miserly nobleman. It should be considered as a contradiction in terms. Economics were dignified by the ancients with the appellation of Practical Philosophy. Xenophon wrote one book upon them, and Aristotle two. But they dwell too much, as might be expected, on general theories; and cannot enter into such particulars as are really useful in the conduct of com
mon life. I advise you, nevertheless, to read the work of Xenophon, as it is not long, and is capable of affording you amusement.
Cato, Varro, Columella, and other old authors, have written upon some branches of economics; chiefly the agricultural. As a man of general learning, some knowledge of them may become you; but to gain a skill in economics for real utility, I must refer you to experience, observation, common sense, and common life. I venture to say, that there are more useful ideas on the subject to be collected in the merchant's counting-house, the steward's office, and in the farm, than in all the books of all the philosophers.
But to enable you to make due use of the information 'you may obtain from any of these quarters, I must recommend it to you to acquire a competent skill in practical arithmetic, and in book-keeping. Despise not the humblest parts of knowledge which can contribute to your comfort and your independence.
Much of your independence, I have already hinted, will be secured by a due attention to your revenue, You will not be obliged to sell your vote and influence ; nor to court a minister for a lucrative employment, so long as you preserve your own finances uninvolved.
Study economics, therefore, with at least as much attention as those sciences which terminate chiefly in speculation. But I must repeat the caution against excessive parsimony. The caution may not appear to be necessary to you at present; for you are conscious, and I am ready to allow, with pleasure, that you are as liberal as becomes your birth and property.
But avarice has ever been one of the strongest
passions of human nature; and it increases perversely, when there is the least occasion for it, in age and in affluence. I am, &c.
- LETTER XXVIII.
I THANK you for the letters which you often sendme, containing inquiries suggested by your own reading and reflection. You know I never meant to write a regular system in a familiar correspondence. Your suggestions of occasional topics agreeably breaks the chain of a too formal arrangement. In studying ethics, you say you could not be disgusted, as well as perplexed, by the diversity of opinion concerning the chief good of man. You ask me my opinion concerning the grand question, In what consists happiness? It is a subject on which I might involve you and myself in a long disquisition; but take the opinions of a modern philosopher, a little dilated. Mr. Paley enumerates four particulars in which happiness consists: 1st, The exercise of the social affections. 2dly, The exercise of our faculties, either of body or mind, in the pursuit of some engaging end; because engagement is the great point to be pursued. 3rdly, Happiness depends upon the prudent constitution of the habits. Set the habits in such a manner, that every change may be a change for the better. 4thly, Happiness consists in health. When we are in perfect health and spirits, we feel in ourselves a happiness, independent of any outward gratification whatever.