It is indeed, fearful, timorous souls, upon whom the terrors of another life make a profound impression; human beings of this sort come into the world with moderate passions, are of a weakly organization, possess a cool imagination; it is not therefore surprising, that in such men, who are already restrained by their nature, the fear of future punishment counterbalances the weak efforts of their feeble passions; but it is by no means the same with those determined sinners, with those hardened criminals, with those men who are habitually vicious, whose unseemly excesses nothing can arrest, who in their violence shut their eyes to the fear of the laws of this world, despising still more those of the other. Nevertheless, how many persons say they are, and even believe themselves, restrained by the fears of the life to come? But, either they deceive us, or they impose upon themselves, by attributing to these fears, that which is only the effect of motives much nearer at hand; such as the feebleness of their machine, the mildness of their temperament, the slender energy of their souls, their natural timidity, the ideas imbibed in their education, the fear of consequences immediately resulting from criminal actions, the physical evils attendant on unbridled irregularities: these are the true motives that restrain them; not the notions of a future life: which men, who say they are most firmly persuaded of its existence, forget whenever a powerful interest solicits them to sin. If for a time man would pay attention to what passes before his eyes, he would perceive that he ascribes to the fear of the gods that which is in reality only the effect of peculiar weakness, of pusillanimity, of the small interest found to commit evil: these men would not act otherwise than they do, if they had not this fear before them; if, therefore he reflected, he would feel that it is always necessity that makes men act as they do.
Man cannot be restrained, when he does not find within himself motives sufficiently powerful to conduct him back to reason. There is nothing, either in this world or in the other, that can render him virtuous, when an untoward organization—a mind badly cultivated—a violent imagination—inveterate habits—fatal examples—powerful interests— invite him from every quarter to the commission of crime. No speculations are capable of restraining the man who braves public opinion, who despises the law, who is careless of its censure, who turns a deaf ear to the cries of conscience, whose power in this world places him out of the reach of punishment; in the violence of his transports, he will fear still less a distant futurity, of which the idea always recedes before that which he believes necessary to his immediate interests, consistent with his present happiness. All lively passions blind man to every thing that is not its immediate object; the terrors of a future life, of which his passions always possess the secret to diminish to him the probability, can effect nothing upon the wicked man, who does not fear even the much nearer punishment of the law; who sets at nought the assured hatred of those by whom he is surrounded. Man, when he delivers himself up to crime, sees nothing certain except the supposed advantage which attends it; the rest always appear to him either false or problematical.
If man would but open his eyes, even for a moment, he would clearly perceive, that to effect any thing upon hearts hardened by crime, he must not reckon upon the chastisement of an avenging Divinity, which the self-love natural to man always shews him as pacified in the long run. He who has arrived at persuading himself he cannot be happy without crime, will always readily deliver himself up to it, notwithstanding the menaces of religion. Whoever is sufficiently blind not to read his infamy in his own heart, to see his own vileness in the countenances of his associates, his own condemnation in the anger of his fellow-men, his own unworthiness in the indignation of the judges established to punish the offences he may commit: such a man, I say, will never feel the impression his crimes shall make on the features of a judge, that is either hidden from his view, or that he only contemplates at a distance. The tyrant who with dry eyes can hear the cries of the distressed, who with callous heart can behold the tears of a whole people, of whose misery he is the cause, will not see the angry countenance of a more powerful master: like another Menippus, he may indeed destroy himself from desperation, to avoid reiterated reproach; which only proves, that when a haughty, arrogant despot pretends to be accountable for his actions to the Divinity alone, it is because he fears his nation more than he does his God.
On the other hand, does not superstition itself, does not even religion, annihilate the effects of those fears which it announces as salutary? Does it not furnish its disciples with the means of extricating themselves from the punishments with which it has so frequently menaced them? Does it not tell them, that a steril repentance will, even at the moment of death, disarm the celestial wrath; that it will purify the filthy souls of sinners? Do not even the priests, in some superstitions, arrogate to themselves the right of remitting to the dying the punishment due to the crimes committed during the course of a disorderly life? In short, do not the most perverse men, encouraged in iniquity, countenanced in debauchery, upheld in crime, reckon, even to the last moment, either upon the assistance of superstition, or upon the aid of religion, that promises them the infallible means of reconciling themselves to the Divinity, whom they have irritated; of avoiding the rigorous punishments pronounced against their enormities?
In consequence of these notions, so favourable to the wicked, so suitable to tranquillize their fears, we see that the hope of an easy expiation, far from correcting man, engages him to persist, until death, in the most crying disorders. Indeed, in despite of the numberless advantages which he is assured flows from the doctrine of a life to come, in defiance of its pretended efficacy to repress the passions of men, do not the priests themselves, although so interested in the maintenance of this system, every day complain of its insufficiency? They acknowledge, that mortals, who from their infancy they have imbued with these ideas, are not less hurried forward by their evil propensities—less sunk in the vortex of dissipation—less the slaves to their pleasures—less captivated by bad habits—less driven along by the torrent of the world—less seduced by their present interest—which make them forget equally the recompense and the chastisement of a future existence. In a word, the interpreters of superstition, the ministers of religion themselves, allow that their disciples, for the greater part, conduct themselves in this world as if they had nothing either to hope or fear in another.
In short, let it be supposed for a moment, that the doctrine of eternal punishments was of some utility; that it really restrained a small number of individuals; what are these feeble advantages compared to the numberless evils that flow from it? Against one timid man whom this idea restrains, there are thousands upon whom it operates nothing; there are thousands whom it makes irrational; whom it renders savage persecutors; whom it converts into fanatics; there are thousands whose mind it disturbs; whom it diverts from their duties towards society; there are an infinity whom it grievously afflicts, whom it troubles without producing any real good for their associates.
Notwithstanding so many are inclined to consider those who do not fall in with this doctrine as the enemies of society; it will be found on examination that the wisest the most enlightened men of antiquity, as well as many of the moderns, have believed not only that the soul is material and perishes with the body, but also that they have attacked without subterfuge the opinion of future everlasting punishments; it will also be found that many of the systems, set up to establish the immortality of the soul, are in themselves the best evidence that can be adduced of the futility of this doctrine; if for a moment we only follow up the natural the just inferences that are to be drawn from them. This sentiment was far from being, as some have supposed, peculiar to the Epicureans, it has been adopted by philosophers of all sects, by Pythagoreans, by Stoics, by Peripatetics, by Academics; in short by the most godly the most virtuous men of Greece and of Rome.
Pythagoras, according to Ovid, speaks strongly to the fact. Timaeus of Locris, who was a Pythagorean, admits that the doctrine of future punishments was fabulous, solely destined for the imbecility of the uninformed; but little calculated for those who cultivate their reason.
Aristotle expressly says, that "man has neither good to hope nor evil to fear after death."
Zeno, according to Cicero, supposed the soul to be an igneous substance, from whence he concluded it destroyed itself.
Cicero, the philosophical orator, who was of the sect of Academics, although he is not on all occasions, in accord with himself, treats openly as fables the torments of Hell; and looks upon death as the end of every thing for man.
Seneca, the philosopher, is filled with passages which contemplate death as a state of total annihilation, particularly in speaking of it to his brother: and nothing can be more decisive of his holding this opinion, than what he writes to Marcia, to console him.
Seneca, the tragedian, explains himself in the same manner as the philosopher.
The Platonists, who made the soul immortal, could not have an idea of future punishments, because the soul according to them was a portion of the divinity which after the dissolution of the body it returned to rejoin.
Epictetus has the same idea. In a passage reported by Arrian, he says, "but where are you going? It cannot be to a place of suffering: you will only return to the place from whence you came; you are about to be again peaceably associated with the elements from which you are derived. That which in your composition, is of the nature of fire, will return to the element of fire; that which is of the nature of earth, will rejoin itself to the earth; that which is air, will re-unite itself with air; that which is water, will resolve itself into water; there is no Hell, no Acheron, no Cocytus, no Phlegethon."
In another place he says, "the hour of death approaches; but do not aggravate your evil, nor render things worse than they are: represent them to yourself under their true point of view. The time is come when the materials of which you are composed, go to resolve themselves into the elements from whence they were originally borrowed. What is there that is terrible or grievous in that? Is there any thing in the world that perishes totally?"
The sage and pious Antoninus says, "he who fears death, either fears to be deprived of all feeling, or dreads to experience different sensations. If you lose all feeling, you will no longer be subject either to pain or to misery. If you are provided with other senses of a different nature, you will become a creature of a different species." This great emperor further says, "that we must expect death with tranquillity, seeing, that it is only a dissolution of the elements of which each animal is composed."
To the evidence of so many great men of Pagan antiquity, may be joined, that of the author of Ecclesiastes, who speaks of death, and of the condition of the human soul, like an epicurean; he says, "for that which befalleth the sons of men, befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath: so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity. All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again." And further, "wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him."
In short, how can the utility or the necessity of this doctrine be reconciled with the fact, that the great legislator of the Jews; who is supposed to have been inspired by the Divinity, should have remained silent on a subject, that is said to be of so much importance? In the third chapter of Genesis it, is said, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."
Education, Morals, and the Laws suffice to restrain Man.—Of the desire of Immortality.—Of Suicide.
It is not then in an ideal world, existing no where perhaps, but in the imagination of man, that he must seek to collect motives calculated to make him act properly in this; it is in the visible world that will be found incitements to divert him from crime; to rouse him to virtue. It is in Nature,—in experience,—in truth, that he must search out remedies for the evils of his species; for motives suitable to infuse into the human heart, propensities truely useful to society; calculated to promote its advantage; to conduce to the end for which it was designed.
If attention has been paid to what has been said In the course of this work, it will he seen that above all it is education that will best furnish the true means of rectifying the errors, of recalling the wanderings of mankind. It is this that should scatter the Seeds in his heart; cultivate the tender shoots; make a profitable use of his dispositions; turn to account those faculties, which depend on his organization: which should cherish the fire of his imagination, kindle it for useful objects; damp it, or extinguish it for others; in short, it is this which should make sensible souls contract habits which are advantageous for society and beneficial to the individual. Brought up in this manner, man would not have occasion for celestial punishments, to teach him the value of virtue; he would not need to behold burning gulphs of brimstone under his feet, to induce him to feel horror for crime; Nature without these fables, would teach much better what he owes to himself; the law would point out what he owes to the body politic, of which he is a member. It is thus, that education grounded upon utility, would form valuable citizens to the state; the depositaries of power would distinguish those whom education should have thus formed, by reason of the advantages which they would procure for their country; they would punish those who should be found injurious to it; it would make the citizens see, that the promises of reward which education held forth, the punishments denounced by morals, are by no means vain; that in a state well constituted, virtue is the true, the only road to happiness; talents the way to gain respect; that inutility conducts to misfortune: that crime leads to contempt.
A just, enlightened, virtuous, and vigilant government, who should honestly propose the public good, would have no occasion either for fables or for falsehoods, to govern reasonable subjects; it would blush to make use of imposture, to deceive its citizens; who, instructed in their duties, would find their interest in submitting to equitable laws; who would be capable of feeling the benefit these have the power of conferring on them; it would feel, that habit is sufficient to inspire them with horror, even for those concealed crimes that escape the eyes of society; it would understand that the visible punishments of this world impose much more on the generality of men, than those of an uncertain and distant futurity: in short, it would ascertain that the sensible benefits within the compass of the sovereign power to distribute, touch the imagination of mortals more keenly, than those vague recompences which are held forth to them in a future existence: above all, it would discover that those on whom these distant advantages do operate, would be still more attached to virtue by receiving their reward both here and hereafter.
Man is almost every where so wicked, so corrupt, so rebellious to reason, only because he is not governed according to his Nature, nor properly instructed in her necessary laws: he is almost in every climate fed with superstitious chimeras; submitted to masters who neglect his instruction or who seek to deceive him. On the face of this globe, may be frequently witnessed unjust sovereigns, who, enervated by luxury, corrupted by flattery, depraved by licentiousness, made wicked by impunity, devoid of talents, without morals, destitute of virtue, are incapable of exerting any energy for the benefit of the states they govern; they are consequently but little occupied with the welfare of their people; indifferent to their duties; of which indeed they are often ignorant. Such governors suffer their whole attention to be absorbed by frivolous amusement; stimulated by the desire of continually finding means to feed their insatiable ambition they engage in useless depopulating wars; and never occupy their mind with those objects which are the most important to the happiness of their nation: yet these weak men feel interested in maintaining the received prejudices, and visit with severity those who consider the means of curing them: in short themselves deprived of that understanding, which teaches man that it is his interest to be kind, just, and virtuous; they ordinarily reward only those crimes which their imbecility makes them imagine as useful to them; they generally punish those virtues which are opposed to their own imprudent passions, but which reason would point out as truly beneficial to their interests. Under such masters is it surprising that society should be ravaged; that weak beings should be willing to imitate them; that perverse men should emulate each other in oppressing its members; in sacrificing its dearest interests; in despoiling its happiness? The state of society in such countries, is a state of hostility of the sovereign against the whole, of each of its members the one against the other. Man is wicked, not because he is born so, but because he is rendered so; the great, the powerful, crush with impunity the indigent and the unhappy; these, at the risk of their lives seek to retaliate, to render back the evil they have received: they attack either openly or in secret a country, who to them is a step-mother, who gives all to some of her children, and deprives the others of every thing: they punish it for its partiality, and clearly shew that the motives borrowed from a life hereafter are impotent against the fury of those passions to which a corrupt administration has given birth; that the terror of the punishments in this world are too feeble against necessity; against criminal habits; against dangerous organization uncorrected by education.
In many countries the morals of the people are neglected; the government is occupied only with rendering them timid; with making them miserable. Man is almost every where a slave; it must then follow of necessity, that he is base, interested, dissimulating, without honour, in a word that he has the vices of the state of which he is a citizen. Almost every where he is deceived; encouraged in ignorance; prevented from cultivating his reason; of course he must be stupid, irrational, and wicked almost every where he sees vice applauded, and crime honoured; thence he concludes vice to be a good; virtue, only a useless sacrifice of himself: almost every where he is miserable, therefore he injures his fellow-men in a fruitless attempt to relieve his own anguish: it is in vain to shew him heaven in order to restrain him; his views presently descend again to earth; he is willing to be happy at any price; therefore, the laws which have neither provided for his instruction, for his morals, nor his happiness, menace him uselessly; he plunges on in his pursuits, and these ultimately punish him, for the unjust negligence of his legislators. If politics more enlightened, did seriously occupy itself with the instruction, with the welfare of the people; if laws were more equitable; if each society, less partial, bestowed on its members the care, the education, and the assistance which they have a right to expect; if governments less covetous, and more vigilant, were sedulous to render their subjects more happy, there would not be seen such numbers of malefactors, of robbers, of murderers, who every where infest society; they would not be obliged to destroy life, in order to punish wickedness; which is commonly ascribable to the vices of their own institutions: it would be unnecessary to seek in another life for fanciful chimeras, which always prove abortive against the infuriate passions; against the real wants of man. In short, if the people were instructed, they would be more happy; politics would no longer be reduced to the exigency of deceiving them, in order to restrain them; nor to destroy so many unfortunates, for having procured necessaries, at the expence of their hard-hearted fellow-citizens.
When it shall be desired to enlighten man, let him always have truth laid before him. Instead of kindling his imagination by the idea of those punishments that a future state has in reserve for him, let him be solaced—let him be succoured; or, at least, let him be permitted to enjoy the fruit of his labour—let not his substance be ravished from him by cruel imposts—let him not be discouraged from work, by finding all his labour inadequate to support his existence; let him not be driven into that idleness, that will surely lead him on to crime: let him consider his present existence, without carrying his views to that which may attend him after his death; let his industry be excited—let his talents be rewarded—let him be rendered active, laborious, beneficent, and virtuous, in the world he inhabits; let it be shewn to him, that his actions are capable of having an influence over his fellow-men. Let him not be menaced with the tortures of a future existence when he shall be no more; let him behold society armed against those who disturb its repose; let him see the consequence of the hatred of his associates; let him learn to feel the value of their affection; let him be taught to esteem himself; let him understand, that to obtain it, he must have virtue; above all, that the virtuous man in society has nothing to fear, but every thing to hope.
If it be desired to form honest, courageous, industrious citizens, who may be useful to their country, let them beware of inspiring man from his infancy with an ill-founded dread of death; of amusing his imagination with marvellous fables; of occupying his mind with his destiny in a future life, quite useless to be known, which has nothing in common with his real felicity. Let them speak of immortality to intrepid, noble souls; let them shew it as the price of their labours to energetic minds, who are solely occupied with virtue; who springing forward beyond the boundaries of their actual existence—who, little satisfied with eliciting the admiration, with gaining the love of their contemporaries, are will also to wrest the homage, to secure the affection of future races. Indeed, this is an immortality to which genius, talents, above all virtue, has a just right to pretend; do not therefore let them censure—do not let them endeavour to stifle so noble a passion in man; which is founded upon his nature; which is so calculated to render him happy; from which society gather the most advantageous fruits.
The idea of being buried in total oblivion, of having nothing in common after his death with the beings of his species; of losing all possibility of again having any influence over them, is a thought extremely painful to man; it is above all afflicting to those who possess an ardent imagination. The desire of immortality, or of living in the memory of his fellow men, was always the passion of great souls; it was the motive to the actions of all those who have played a great part on the earth. Heroes whether virtuous or criminal, philosophers as well as conquerors, men of genius and men of talents, those sublime personages who have done honor to their species, as well as those illustrious villains who have debased and ravaged it, have had an eye to posterity in all their enterprises; have flattered themselves with the hope of acting upon the souls of men, even when they themselves should no longer exist. If man in general does not carry his views so far, he is at least sensible to the idea of seeing himself regenerated in his children; whom he knows are destined to survive him; to transmit his name; to preserve his memory; to represent him in society; it is for them that he rebuilds his cottage; it is for them that he plants the tree which his eyes will never behold in its vigour; it is that they may be happy that he labours. The sorrow which embitters the life of those rich men, frequently so useless to the world, when they have lost the hope of continuing their race, has its source in the fear of being entirely forgotten: they feel that the useless man dies entirely. The idea that his name will be in the mouths of men, the thought that it will be pronounced with tenderness, that it will be recollected with kindness, that it will excite in their hearts favourable sentiments, is an illusion that is useful; is a vision suitable to flatter even those who know that nothing will result from it. Man pleases himself with dreaming that he shall have power, that he shall pass for something in the universe, even after the term of his human existence; he partakes by imagination in the projects, in the actions, in the discussions of future ages, and would be extremely unhappy if he believed himself entirely excluded from their society. The laws in all countries have entered into these views; they have so far been willing to console their citizens for the necessity of dying, by giving them the means of exercising their will, even for a long time after their death: this condescension goes to that length, that the dead frequently regulate the condition of the living during a long series of years.
Every thing serves to prove the desire in man of surviving himself. Pyramids, mausoleums, monuments, epitaphs, all shew that he is willing to prolong his existence even beyond his decease. He, is not insensible to the judgment of posterity; it is for him the philosopher writes; it is to astonish him that the monarch erects sumptuous edifices, gorgeous palaces; it is his praises, it is his commendations, that the great man already hears echo in his ears; it is to him that the virtuous citizen appeals from unjust laws; from prejudiced contemporaries—happy chimera! generous illusion! mild vision! its power is so consoling, so bland, that it realizes itself to ardent imaginations; it is calculated to give birth, to sustain, to nurture, to mature enthusiasm of genius, constancy of courage, grandeur of soul, transcendency of talent; its force is so gentle, its influence so pleasing, that it is sometimes able to repress the vices, to restrain the excesses of the most powerful men; who are, as experience has shewn, frequently very much disquieted for the judgment of their posterity; from a conviction that this will sooner or later avenge the living of the foul injustice which they may be inclined to make them suffer.
No man, therefore, can consent to be entirely effaced from the remembrance of his fellows; some men have not the temerity to place themselves above the judgment of the future human species, to degrade themselves in his eyes. Where is the being who is insensible to the pleasure of exciting the tears of those who shall survive him; of again acting upon their souls; of once more occupying their thoughts; of exercising upon them his power even from the bottom of his grave? Let then eternal silence be imposed upon those superstitious beings, upon those melancholy men, upon those furious bigots, who censure a sentiment from which society derives so many real advantages; let not mankind listen to those passionless philosophers who are willing to smother this great, this noble spring of his soul; let him not be seduced by the sarcasms of those voluptuaries, who pretend to despise an immortality, towards which they lack the power to set forward; the desire of pleasing posterity, of rendering his name agreeable to generations yet to come, is a respectable, a laudable motive, when it causes him to undertake those things, of which the utility may be felt, of which the advantages may have an influence not only over his contemporaries, but also over nations who have not yet an existence. Let him not treat as irrational, the enthusiasm of those beneficent beings, of those mighty geniuses, of those stupendous talents, whose keen, whose penetrating regards, have foreseen him even in their day; who have occupied themselves for him; for his welfare; for his happiness; who have desired his suffrage; who have written for him; who have enriched him by their discoveries; who have cured him of some of his errors. Let him render them the homage which they have expected at his hands; let him, at least, reverence their memory for the benefits he has derived from them; let him treat their mouldering remains with respect, for the pleasure he receives from their labours; let him pay to their ashes a tribute of grateful recollection, for the happiness they have been sedulous to procure for him. Let him sprinkle with his tears, let him hallow with his remembrance, let him consecrate with his finest sensibilities, the urns of Socrates, of Phocion; of Archimedes; of Anaxarchus; let him wash out the stain that their punishment has made on the human species; let him expiate by his regret the Athenian ingratitude, the savage barbarity of Nicocreon; let him learn by their example to dread superstitious fanaticism; to hold political intolerance in abhorrence; let him fear to harrass merit; let him be cautious how he insults virtue, in persecuting those who may happen to differ from him in his prejudices.
Let him strew flowers over the tombs of an Homer—of a Tasso—of a Shakespeare—of a Milton—of a Goldsmith; let him revere the immortal shades of those happy geniuses, whose songs yet vibrate on his ears; whose harmonious lays excite in his soul the most tender sentiments; let him bless the memory of all those benefactors to the people, who were the delight of the human race; let him adore the virtues Of a Titus—of a Trajan—of an Antoninus—of a Julian: let him merit in his sphere, the eulogies of future ages; let him always remember, that to carry with him to the grave the regret of his fellow man, he must display talents; evince integrity; practice virtue. The funeral ceremonies of the most powerful monarchs, have rarely been wetted with the tears of the people, they have commonly drained them while living. The names of tyrants excite the horror of those who bear them pronounced. Tremble then cruel kings! ye who plunge your subjects into misery; who bathe them with bitter tears—who ravage nations—who deluge the land with the vital stream—who change the fruitful earth into a barren cemetery; tremble for the sanguinary traits under which the future historian will paint you, to generations yet unborn: neither your splendid monuments—your imposing victories—your innumerable armies, nor your sycophant courtiers, can prevent posterity from avenging their grandfathers; from insulting your odious manes; from treating your execrable memories with scorn; from showering their contempt on your transcendant crimes.
Not only man sees his dissolution with pain, but again, he wishes his death may be an interesting event for others. But, as we have already said, he must have talents—he must have beneficence—he must have virtue, in order, that those who surround him, may interest themselves in his condition; that those who survive him, may give regret to his ashes. Is it, then, surprising if the greater number of men, occupied entirely with themselves, completely absorbed by their own vanity, devoted to their own puerile objects, for ever busied with the care of gratifying their vile passions, at the expence, perhaps, of their family happiness, unheedful of the wants of a wife, unmindful of the necessity of their children, careless of the calls of friendship, regardless of their duty to society, do not by their death excite the sensibilities of their survivors; or that they should be presently forgotten? There is an infinity of monarchs of which history does not tell us any thing, save that they have lived. In despite of the inutility in which men for the most part pass their existence, maugre the little care they bestow, to render themselves dear to the beings who environ them; notwithstanding the numerous actions they commit to displease their associates; the self love of each individual, persuades him, that his death must he an interesting occurrence: few men but think themselves an Euryalus in friendship, all expect to find a Nisus, thus man's over-weening philauty shews him to say thus the order of things are overturned at his decease. O mortal! feeble and vain! Dost thou not know the Sesostris's, the Alexanders, the Caesars are dead? Yet the course of the universe is not arrested; the demise of those famous conquerors, afflicting to some few favoured slaves, was a subject of delight for the whole human race. Dost thou then foolishly believe that thy talents ought to interest thy species, that they are of sufficient extent to put it into mourning at thy decease? Alas! The Corneilles, the Lockes, the Newtons, the Boyles, the Harveys, the Montesquieus, the Sheridans are no more! Regretted by a small number of friends, who have presently consoled themselves by their necessary avocations, their death was indifferent to the greater number of their fellow citizens. Darest thou then flatter thyself, that thy reputation, thy titles, thy riches, thy sumptuous repasts, thy diversified pleasures, will make thy funeral a melancholy event! It will be spoken of by some few for two days, and do not be at all surprised: learn that there have died in former ages, in Babylon, in Sardis, in Carthage, in Athens, in Rome, millions of citizens more illustrious, more powerful, more opulent, more voluptuous, than thou art; of whom, however, no one has taken care to transmit to thee even the names. Be then virtuous, O man! in whatever station thy destiny assigns thee, and thou shalt be happy in thy life time; do thou good and thou shalt be cherished; acquire talents and thou shalt be respected; posterity shall admire thee, if those talents, by becoming beneficial to their interests, shall bring them acquainted with the name under which they formerly designated thy annihilated being. But the universe will not be disturbed by thy loss; and when thou comest to die, whilst thy wife, thy children, thy friends, fondly leaning over thy sickly couch, shall be occupied with the melancholy task of closing thine eyes, thy nearest neighbour shall perhaps be exulting with joy!
Let not then man occupy himself with his condition that may be to come, but let him sedulously endeavour to make himself useful, to those with whom he lives; let him for his own peculiar happiness render himself dutiful to his parents—faithful to his wife—attentive to his children —kind to his relations—-true to his friends—lenient to his servants; let him strive to become estimable in the eyes of his fellow citizens; let him faithfully serve a country which assures to him his welfare; let the desire of pleasing posterity, of meriting its applause, excite him to those labours that shall elicit their eulogies: let a legitimate self-love, when he shall be worthy of it, make him taste in advance those commendations which he is willing to deserve; let him learn to love himself—to esteem himself; but never let him consent that concealed vices, that sacred crimes, shall degrade him in his own eyes; shall oblige him to be ashamed of his own conduct.
Thus disposed, let him contemplate his own decease with the same indifference, that it will he looked upon by the greater number of his fellows; let him expect death with constancy; wait for it with calm resignation; let him learn to shake off those vain terrors with which superstition, would overwhelm him; let him leave to the enthusiast his vague hopes; to the fanatic his mad-brained speculations; to the bigot those fears with which he ministers to his own melancholy; but let his heart, fortified by reason, corroborated by a love of virtue, no longer dread a dissolution that will destroy all feeling.
Whatever may be the attachment man has to life, whatever may be his fear of death, it is every day witnessed, that habit, that opinion, that prejudice, are motives sufficiently powerful to annihilate these passions in his breast; to make him brave danger; to cause him to hazard his existence. Ambition, pride, jealousy, love, vanity, avarice, the desire of glory, that deference of opinion which is decorated with the sounding title of a point of honour, have the efficacy to make him shut his eyes to danger; to laugh at peril; to push him on to death: vexation, anxiety of mind, disgrace, want of success, softens to him its hard features; makes him regard it as a door that will afford him shelter from the injustice of mankind: indigence, trouble, adversity, familiarizes him with this death, so terrible to the happy. The poor man, condemned to labour, inured to privations, deprived of the comforts of life, views its approach with indifference: the unfortunate, when he is unhappy, when he is without resource, embraces it in despair; the wretched accelerates its march as soon as he sees that happiness is no longer within his grasp.
Man in different ages, in different countries, has formed opinions extremely various upon the conduct of those, who have had the temerity to put an end to their own existence. His ideas upon this subject, as upon all others, have taken their tone from his religion, have been governed by his superstitious systems, have been modified by his political institutions. The Greeks, the Romans, and other nations, which every thing conspired to make intrepid, to render courageous, to lead to magnanimity, regarded as heroes, contemplated as Gods, those who voluntarily cut the thread of life. In Hindoostan, the Brahmin yet knows how to inspire even women with sufficient fortitude to burn themselves upon the dead bodies of their husbands. The Japanese, upon the most trifling occasion, takes no kind of difficulty in plunging a dagger into his bosom.
Among the people of our own country, religion renders man less prodigal of life; it teaches that it is offensive to the Deity that he should destroy himself. Some moralists, abstracting the height of religious ideas, have held that it is never permitted to man to break the conditions of the covenant that he has made with society. Others have looked upon suicide as cowardice; they have thought that it was weakness, that it displayed pusillanimity, to suffer, himself to be overwhelmed with the shafts of his destiny; and have held that there would be much more courage, more elevation of soul, in supporting his afflictions, in resisting the blows of fate.
If nature be consulted upon this point, it will be found that all the actions of man, that feeble plaything in the hands of necessity, are indispensable; that they depend on causes which move him in despite of himself—that without his knowledge, make him accomplish at each moment of his existence some one of its decrees. If the same power that obliges all intelligent beings to cherish their existence, renders that of man so painful, so cruel, that he finds it insupportable he quits his species; order is destroyed for him, he accomplishes a decree of Nature, that wills he shall no longer exist. This Nature has laboured during thousands of years, to form in the bowels of the earth the iron that must number his days.
If the relation of man with Nature be examined, it will be found that his engagement was neither voluntary on his part, nor reciprocal on the part of Nature. The volition of his will had no share in his birth; it is commonly against his will that he is obliged to finish life; his actions are, as we have proved, only the necessary effects of unknown causes which determine his will. He is, in the hands of Nature, that which a sword is in his own hands; he can fall upon it without its being able to accuse him with breaking his engagements; or of stamping with ingratitude the hand that holds it: man can only love his existence on condition of being happy; as soon as the entire of nature refuses him this happiness; as soon as all that surrounds him becomes incommodious to him, as soon as his melancholy ideas offer nothing but afflicting pictures to his imagination; he already exists no longer; he is suspended in the void; he quits a rank which no longer suits him; in which he finds no one interest; which offers him no protection; which overwhelms him with calamity; in which he can no more be useful either to himself or to others.
If the covenant which unites man to society be considered, it will be obvious that every contract is conditional, must be reciprocal; that is to say, supposes mutual advantages between the contracting parties. The citizen cannot be bound to his country, to his associates, but by the bonds of happiness. Are these bonds cut asunder? He is restored to liberty. Society, or those who represent it, do they use him with harshness, do they treat him with injustice, do they render his existence painful? Does disgrace hold him out to the finger of scorn; does indigence menace him in an obdurate world? Perfidious friends, do they forsake him in adversity? An unfaithful wife, does she outrage his heart? Rebellious, ungrateful children, do they afflict his old age? Has he placed his happiness exclusively on some object which it is impossible for him to procure? Chagrin, remorse, melancholy, and despair, have they disfigured to him the spectacle of the universe? In short, for whatever cause it may be: if he is not able to support his evils, he quits a world, which from henceforth, is for him only a frightful desert he removes himself for ever from a country he thinks no longer willing to reckon him amongst the number of her children—he quits a house that to his mind is ready to bury him under its ruins—he renounces a society, to the happiness of which he can no longer contribute; which his own peculiar felicity alone can render dear to him: and could the man be blamed, who, finding himself useless; who being without resources, in the town where destiny gave him birth, should quit it in chagrin, to plunge himself in solitude? Death appears to the wretched the only remedy for despair; it is then the sword seems the only friend, the only comfort that is left to the unhappy: as long as hope remains the tenant of his bosom—as long as his evils appear to him at all supportable—as long as he flatters himself with seeing them brought to a termination—as long as he finds some comfort in existence, however slender, he will not consent to deprive himself of life: but when nothing any longer sustains in him the love of this existence, then to live, is to him the greatest of evils; to die, the only mode by which he can avoid the excess of despair. This has been the opinion of many great men: Seneca, the moralist, whom Lactantius calls the divine Pagan, who has been praised equally by St. Austin and St. Augustine, endeavours by every kind of argument to make death a matter of indifference to man. Cato has always been commended, because he would not survive the cause of liberty; for that he would not live a slave. Curtius, who rode voluntarily into the gap, to save his country, has always been held forth as a model of heroic virtue. Is it not evident, that those martyrs who have delivered themselves up to punishment, have preferred quitting the world to living in it contrary to their own ideals of happiness? When Samson wished to be revenged on the Philistines, did he not consent to die with them as the only means? If our country is attacked, do we not voluntarily sacrifice our lives in its defence?
That society who has not the ability, or who is not willing to procure man any one benefit, loses all its rights over him; Nature, when it has rendered his existence completely miserable, has in fact, ordered him to quit it: in dying he does no more than fulfil one of her decrees, as he did when he first drew his breath. To him who is fearless of death, there is no evil without a remedy; for him who refuses to die, there yet exists benefits which attach him to the world; in this case let him rally his powers—let him oppose courage to a destiny that oppresses him—let him call forth those resources with which Nature yet furnishes him; she cannot have totally abandoned him, while she yet leaves him the sensation of pleasure; the hopes of seeing a period to his pains.
Man regulates his judgment on his fellows, only by his own peculiar mode of feeling; he deems as folly, he calls delirium all those violent actions which he believes but little commensurate with their causes; or which appear to him calculated to deprive him of that happiness, towards which he supposes a being in the enjoyment of his senses, cannot cease to have a tendency: he treats his associate as a weak creature, when he sees him affected with that which touches him but lightly; or when he is incapable of supporting those evils, which his self-love flatters him, he would himself he able to endure with more fortitude. He accuses with madness whoever deprives himself of life, for objects that he thinks unworthy so dear a sacrifice; he taxes him with phrenzy, because he has himself learned to regard this life as the greatest blessing. It is thus that he always erects himself into a judge of the happiness of others— of their mode of seeing—of their manner of feeling: a miser who destroys himself after the loss of his treasure, appears a fool in the eyes of him who is less attached to riches; he does not feel, that without money, life to this miser is only a continued torture; that nothing in the world is capable of diverting him from his painful sensations: he will proudly tell you, that in his place he had not done so much; but to be exactly in the place of another man, it is needful to have his organization—his temperament—his passions—his ideas; it is in fact needful to be that other; to be placed exactly in the same circumstances; to be moved by the same causes; and in this case all men, like the miser, would sacrifice their life, after being deprived of the only source of their happiness.
He who deprives himself of his existence, does not adopt this extremity, so repugnant to his natural tendency; but when nothing in this world has the faculty of rejoicing him; when no means are left of diverting his affliction; when reason no longer acts; his misfortune whatever it may be, for him is real; his organization, be it strong, or be it weak, is his own, not that of another: a man who is sick only in imagination, really suffers considerably; even troublesome dreams place him in a very uncomfortable situation. Thus when a man kills himself, it ought to be concluded, that life, in the room of being a benefit, had become a very great evil to him; that existence had lost all its charms in his eyes; that the entire of nature was to him destitute of attraction; that it no longer contained any thing that could seduce him; that after the comparison which his disturbed imagination had made of existence with non-existence, the latter appeared to him preferable to the first.
Many will consider these maxims as dangerous; they certainly account why the unhappy cut the thread of life, in a manner not corresponding with the received prejudices; but, nevertheless, it is a temperament soured by chagrin, a bilious constitution, a melancholy habit, a defect in the organization, a derangement in the mind; it is in fact necessity and not reasonable speculations, that breed in man the design of destroying himself. Nothing invites him to this step so long as reason remains with him; or whilst he yet possesses hope, that sovereign balm for every evil: as for the unfortunate, who cannot lose sight of his sorrows—who cannot forget his pains—who has his evils always present to his mind; he is obliged to take counsel from these alone: besides, what assistance, what advantage can society promise to himself, from a miserable wretch reduced to despair; from a misanthrope overwhelmed with grief; from a wretch tormented with remorse, who has no longer any motive to render himself useful to others—who has abandoned himself— who finds no more interest in preserving his life? Frequently, those who destroy themselves are such, that had they lived, the offended laws must have ultimately been obliged to remove them from a society which they disgraced; from a country which they had injured.
As life is commonly the greatest blessing for man, it is to be presumed that he who deprives himself of it, is compelled to it by an invincible force. It is the excess of misery, the height of despair, the derangement of his brain, caused by melancholy, that urges man on to destroy himself. Agitated by contrary impulsions, he is, as we have before said, obliged to follow a middle course that conducts him to his death; if man be not a free-agent, in any one instant of his life, he is again much less so in the act by which it is terminated.
It will be seen then, that he who kills himself, does not, as it is pretended, commit an outrage on nature. He follows an impulse which has deprived him of reason; adopts the only means left him to quit his anguish; he goes out of a door which she leaves open to him; he cannot offend in accomplishing a law of necessity: the iron hand of this having broken the spring that renders life desirable to him; which urged him to self-conservation, shews him he ought to quit a rank or system where he finds himself too miserable to have the desire of remaining. His country or his family have no right to complain of a member, whom it has no means of rendering happy; from whom consequently they have nothing more to hope: to be useful to either, it is necessary he should cherish his own peculiar existence; that he should have an interest in conserving himself—that he should love the bonds by which he is united to others— that he should be capable of occupying himself with their felicity—that he should have a sound mind. That the suicide should repent of his precipitancy, he should outlive himself, he should carry with him into his future residence, his organs, his senses, his memory, his ideas, his actual mode of existing, his determinate manner of thinking.
In short, nothing is more useful for society, than to inspire man with a contempt for death; to banish from his mind the false ideas he has of its consequences. The fear of death can never do more than make cowards; the fear of its consequences will make nothing but fanatics or melancholy beings, who are useless to themselves, unprofitable to others. Death is a resource that ought not by any means to be taken away from oppressed virtue; which the injustice of man frequently reduces to despair. If man feared death less, he would neither be a slave nor superstitious; truth would find defenders more zealous; the rights of mankind would be more hardily sustained; virtue would be intrepidly upheld: error would be more powerfully opposed; tyranny would be banished from nations: cowardice nourishes it, fear perpetuates it. In fact, man can neither be contented nor happy whilst his opinions shall oblige him to tremble.
Of Man's true Interest, or of the Ideas he forms to himself of Happiness.—Man cannot be happy without Virtue.
Utility, as has been before observed, ought to be the only standard of the judgment of man. To be useful, is to contribute to the happiness of his fellow creatures; to be prejudicial, is to further their misery. This granted, let us examine if the principles we have hitherto established be prejudicial or advantageous, useful or useless, to the human race. If man unceasingly seeks after his happiness, he can only approve of that which procures for him his object, or furnishes him the means by which it is to be obtained.
What has been already said will serve in fixing our ideas upon what constitutes this happiness: it has been already shewn that it is only continued pleasure: but in order that an object may please, it is necessary that the impressions it makes, the perceptions it gives, the ideas which it leaves, in short, that the motion it excites in man should be analogous to his organization; conformable to his temperament; assimilated to his individual nature:—modified as it is by habit, determined as it is by an infinity of circumstances, it is necessary that the action of the object by which he is moved, or of which the idea remains with him, far from enfeebling him, far from annihilating his feelings, should tend to strengthen him; it is necessary, that without fatiguing his mind, exhausting his faculties, or deranging his organs, this object should impart to his machine that degree of activity for which it continually has occasion. What is the object that unites all these qualities? Where is the man whose organs are susceptible of continual agitation without being fatigued; without experiencing a painful sensation; without sinking? Man is always willing to be warned of his existence in the most lively manner, as long as he can be so without pain. What do I say? He consents frequently to suffer, rather than not feel. He accustoms himself to a thousand things which at first must have affected him in a disagreeable manner; but which frequently end either by converting themselves into wants, or by no longer affecting him any way: of this truth tobacco, coffee, and above all brandy furnish examples: this is the reason he runs to see tragedies; that he witnesses the execution of criminals. In short, the desire of feeling, of being powerfully moved, appears to be the principle of curiosity; of that avidity with which man seizes on the marvellous; of that earnestness with which he clings to the supernatural; of the disposition he evinces for the incomprehensible. Where, indeed, can he always find objects in nature capable of continually supplying the stimulus requisite to keep him in activity, that shall be ever proportioned to the state of his own organization; which his extreme mobility renders subject to perpetual variation? The most lively pleasures are always the least durable, seeing they are those which exhaust him most.
That man should be uninterruptedly happy, it would be requisite that his powers were infinite; it would require that to his mobility he joined a vigor, attached a solidity, which nothing could change; or else it is necessary that the objects from which he receives impulse, should either acquire or lose properties, according to the different states through which his machine is successively obliged to pass; it would need that the essences of beings should be changed in the same proportion as his dispositions; should be submitted to the continual influence of a thousand causes, which modify him without his knowledge, and in despite of himself. If, at each moment, his machine undergoes changes more or less marked, which are ascribable to the different degrees of elasticity, of density, of serenity of the atmosphere; to the portion of igneous fluid circulating through his blood; to the harmony of his organs; to the order that exists between the various parts of his body; if, at every period of his existence, his nerves have not the same tensions, his fibres the same elasticity, his mind the same activity, his imagination the same ardour, &c. it is evident that the same causes in preserving to him only the same qualities, cannot always affect him in the same manner. Here is the reason why those objects that please him in one season displease him in another: these objects have not themselves sensibly changed; but his organs, his dispositions, his ideas, his mode of seeing, his manner of feeling, have changed:—such is the source of man's inconstancy.
If the same objects are not constantly in that state competent to form the happiness of the same individual, it is easy to perceive that they are yet less in a capacity to please all men; or that the same happiness cannot be suitable to all. Beings already various by their temperament, unlike in their faculties, diversified in their organization, different in their imagination, dissimilar in their ideas, of distinct opinions, of contrary habits, which an infinity of circumstances, whether physical or moral, have variously modified, must necessarily form very different notions of happiness. Those of a MISER cannot be the same as those of a PRODIGAL; those of a VOLUPTUARY, the same as those of one who is PHLEGMATIC; those of an intemperate, the same as those of a rational man, who husbands his health. The happiness of each, is in consequence composed of his natural organization, and of those circumstances, of those habits, of those ideas, whether true or false, that have modified him: this organization and these circumstances, never being the same in any two men, it follows, that what is the object of one man's views, must be indifferent, or even displeasing to another; thus, as we have before said, no one can be capable of judging of that which may contribute to the felicity of his fellow man.
Interest is the object to which each individual according to his temperament and his own peculiar ideas, attaches his welfare; from which it will be perceived that this interest is never more than that which each contemplates as necessary to his happiness. It must, therefore, be concluded, that no man is totally without interest. That of the miser to amass wealth; that of the prodigal to dissipate it: the interest of the ambitious is to obtain power; that of the modest philosopher to enjoy tranquillity; the interest of the debauchee is to give himself up, without reserve, to all sorts of pleasure; that of the prudent man, to abstain from those which may injure him: the interest of the wicked is to gratify his passions at any price: that of the virtuous to merit by his conduct the love, to elicit by his actions the approbation of others; to do nothing that can degrade himself in his own eyes.
Thus, when it is said that Interest is the only motive of human actions; it is meant to indicate that each man labours after his own manner, to his own peculiar happiness; that he places it in some object either visible or concealed; either real or imaginary; that the whole system of his conduct is directed to its attainment. This granted, no man can be called disinterested; this appellation is only applied to those of whose motives we are ignorant; or whose interest we approve. Thus the man who finds a greater pleasure in assisting his friends in misfortune than preserving in his coffers useless treasure, is called generous, faithful, and disinterested; in like manner all men are denominated disinterested, who feel their glory far more precious than their fortune. In short, all men are designated disinterested who place their happiness in making sacrifices which man considers costly, because he does not attach the same value to the object for which the sacrifice is made.
Man frequently judges very erroneously of the interest of others, either because the motives that animate them are too complicated for him to unravel; or because to be enabled to judge of them fairly, it is needful to have the same eyes, the same organs the same passions, the same opinions: nevertheless, obliged to form his judgment of the actions of mankind, by their effect on himself, he approves the interest that actuates them whenever the result is advantageous for his species: thus, he admires valour, generosity, the love of liberty, great talents, virtue, &c. he then only approves of the objects in which the beings he applauds have placed their happiness; he approves these dispositions even when he is not in a capacity to feel their effects; but in this judgment he is not himself disinterested; experience, reflection, habit, reason, have given him a taste for morals, and he finds as much pleasure in being witness to a great and generous action, as the man of virtu finds in the sight of a fine picture of which he is not the proprietor. He who has formed to himself a habit of practising virtue, is a man who has unceasingly before his eyes the interest that he has in meriting the affection, in deserving the esteem, in securing the assistance of others, as well as to love and esteem himself: impressed with these ideas which have become habitual to him, he abstains even from concealed crimes, since these would degrade him in his own eyes: he resembles a man who having from his infancy contracted the habit of cleanliness, would be painfully affected at seeing himself dirty, even when no one should witness it. The honest man is he to whom truth has shewn his interest or his happiness in a mode of acting that others are obliged to love, are under the necessity to approve for their own peculiar interest.
These principles, duly developed, are the true basis of morals; nothing is more chimerical than those which are founded upon imaginary motives placed out of nature; or upon innate sentiments; which some speculators have regarded as anterior to man's experience; as wholly independant of those advantages which result to him from its use: it is the essence of man to love himself; to tend to his own conservation; to seek to render his existence happy: thus interest, or the desire of happiness, is the only real motive of all his actions; this interest depends upon his natural organization, rests itself upon his wants, is bottomed upon his acquired ideas, springs from the habits he has contracted: he is without doubt in error, when either a vitiated organization or false opinions shew him his welfare in objects either useless or injurious to himself, as well as to others; he marches steadily in the paths of virtue when true ideas have made him rest his happiness on a conduct useful to his species; in that which is approved by others; which renders him an interesting object to his associates. Morals would be a vain science if it did not incontestibly prove to man that his interest consists in being virtuous. Obligation of whatever kind, can only be founded upon the probability or the certitude of either obtaining a good or avoiding an evil.
Indeed, in no one instant of his duration, can a sensible, an intelligent being, either lose sight of his own preservation or forget his own welfare; he owes happiness to himself; but experience quickly proves to him, that bereaved of assistance, quite alone, left entirely to himself, he cannot procure all those objects which are requisite to his felicity: he lives with sensible, with intelligent beings, occupied like himself with their own peculiar happiness; but capable of assisting him, in obtaining those objects he most desires; he discovers that these beings will not be favorable to his views, but when they find their interest involved; from which he concludes, that his own happiness demands, that his own wants render it necessary he should conduct himself at all times in a manner suitable to conciliate the attachment, to obtain the approbation, to elicit the esteem, to secure the assistance of those beings who are most capacitated to further his designs. He perceives, that it is man who is most necessary to the welfare of man: that to induce him to join in his interests, he ought to make him find real advantages in recording his projects: but to procure real advantages to the beings of the human species, is to have virtue; the reasonable man, therefore, is obliged to feel that it is his interest to be virtuous. Virtue is only the art of rendering himself happy, by the felicity of others. The virtuous man is he who communicates happiness to those beings who are capable of rendering his own condition happy; who are necessary to his conservation; who have the ability to procure him a felicitous existence.
Such, then, is the true foundation of all morals; merit and virtue are founded upon the nature of man; have their dependance upon his wants. It is virtue alone that can render him truly happy: without virtue society can neither be useful nor indeed subsist; it can only have real utility when it assembles beings animated with the desire of pleasing each other, and disposed to labour to their reciprocal advantage: there exists no comfort in those families whose members are not in the happy disposition to lend each other mutual succours; who have not a reciprocity of feeling that stimulates them to assist one another; that induces them to cling to each other, to support the sorrows of life; to unite their efforts, to put away those evils to which nature has subjected them; the conjugal bonds, are sweet only in proportion as they identify the interest of two beings, united by the want of legitimate pleasure; from whence results the maintenance of political society, and the means of furnishing it with citizens. Friendship has charms only when it more particularly associates two virtuous beings; that is to say, animated with the sincere desire of conspiring to their reciprocal happiness. In short, it is only by displaying virtue, that man can merit the benevolence, can win the confidence, can gain the esteem, of all those with whom he has relation; in a word, no man can be independently happy.
Indeed, the happiness of each human individual depends on those sentiments to which he gives birth, on those feelings which he nourishes in the beings amongst whom his destiny has placed him; grandeur may dazzle them; power may wrest from them an involuntary homage; force may compel an unwilling obedience; opulence may seduce mean, may attract venal souls; but it is humanity, it is benevolence, it is compassion, it is equity, that unassisted by these, can without efforts obtain for him, from those by whom he is surrounded, those delicious sentiments of attachments, those soothing feelings of tenderness, those sweet ideas of esteem, of which all reasonable men feel the necessity. To be virtuous then, is to place his interest in that which accords with the interest of others; it is to enjoy those benefits, to partake of that pleasure which he himself diffuses over his fellows. He whom, his nature, his education, his reflections, his habits, have rendered susceptible of these dispositions, and to whom his circumstances have given him the faculty of gratifying them, becomes an interesting object to all those who approach him: he enjoys every instant, he reads with satisfaction the contentment, he contemplates with pleasure the joy which he has diffused over all countenances: his wife, his children, his friends, his servants greet him with gay, serene faces, indicative of that content, harbingers of that peace, which he recognizes for his own work: every thing that environs him is ready to partake his pleasures; to share his pains; cherished, respected, looked up to by others, every thing conducts him to agreeable reflections; he knows the rights he has acquired over their hearts; he applauds himself for being the source of a felicity that captivates all the world; his own condition, his sentiments of self-love, become an hundred times more delicious when he sees them participated by all those with whom his destiny has connected him. The habit of virtue creates for him no wants but those which virtue itself suffices to satisfy; it is thus that virtue is always its own peculiar reward, that it remunerates itself with all the advantages which it incessantly procures for others.
It will be said, and perhaps even proved, that under the present constitution of things, virtue far from procuring the welfare of those who practice it frequently plunges man into misfortune; often places continual obstacles to his felicity; that almost every where it is without recompence. What do I say? A thousand examples could be adduced as evidence, that in almost every country it is hated, persecuted, obliged to lament the ingratitude of human nature. I reply with avowing, that by a necessary consequence of the errors of his race, virtue rarely conducts man to those objects in which the uninformed make their happiness consist. The greater number of societies, too frequently ruled by those whose ignorance makes them abuse their power,—whose prejudices render them enemies of virtue,—who flattered by sycophants, secure in the impunity their actions enjoy, commonly lavish their esteem, bestow their kindness, on none but the most unworthy objects; reward only the most frivolous, recompence none but the most prejudicial qualities; and hardly ever accord that justice to merit which is unquestionably its due. But the truly honest man, is neither ambitious of renumeration, nor sedulous of the suffrages of a society thus badly constituted: contented with domestic happiness, he seeks not to augment relations, which would do no more than increase his danger; he knows that a vitiated community is a whirlwind, with which an honest man cannot co-order himself: he therefore steps aside; quits the beaten path, by continuing in which he would infallibly be crushed. He does all the good of which he is capable in his sphere; he leaves the road free to the wicked, who are willing to wade through its mire; he laments the heavy strokes they inflict on themselves; he applauds mediocrity that affords him security: he pities those nations made miserable by their errors,—rendered unhappy by those passions which are the fatal but necessary consequence; he sees they contain nothing but wretched citizens, who far from cultivating their true interest, far from labouring to their mutual felicity, far from feeling the real value of virtue, unconscious how dear it ought to be to them, do nothing but either openly attack, or secretly injure it; in short, who detests a quality which would restrain their disorderly propensities.
In saying that virtue is its own peculiar reward, it is simply meant to announce, that in a society whose views were guided by truth, trained by experience, conducted by reason, each individual would be acquainted with his real interests; would understand the true end of association; would have sound motives to perform his duties; find real advantages in fulfilling them; in fact, it would be convinced, that to render himself solidly happy, he should occupy his actions with the welfare of his fellows; by their utility merit their esteem, elicit their kindness, and secure their assistance. In a well-constituted society, the government, the laws, education, example, would all conspire to prove to the citizen, that the nation of which he forms a part, is a whole that cannot be happy, that cannot subsist without virtue; experience would, at each step, convince him that the welfare of its parts can only result from that of the whole body corporate; justice would make him feel, that no society, can be advantageous to its members, where the volition of wills in those who act, is not so conformable to the interests of the whole, as to produce an advantageous re-action.
But, alas! by the confusion which the errors of man have carried into his ideas: virtue disgraced, banished, and persecuted, finds not one of those advantages it has a right to expect: man is indeed shewn those rewards for it in a future life, of which he is almost always deprived in his actual existence. It is thought necessary to deceive, considered proper to seduce, right to intimidate him, in order to induce him to follow that virtue which every thing renders incommodious to him; he is fed with distant hopes, in order to solicit him to practice virtue, while contemplation of the world makes it hateful to him; he is alarmed by remote terrors, to deter him from committing evil, which his associates paint as amiable; which all conspires to render necessary. It is thus that politics, thus that superstition, by the formation of chimeras, by the creation of fictitious interests pretend to supply those true, those real motives which nature furnishes,—which experience would point out,—which an enlightened government should hold forth,— which the law ought to enforce,—which instruction should sanction,— which example should encourage,-which rational opinions would render pleasant. Man, blinded by his passions, not less dangerous than necessary, led away by precedent, authorised by custom, enslaved by habit, pays no attention to these uncertain promises, is regardless of the menaces held out; the actual interests of his immediate pleasures, the force of his passions, the inveteracy of his habits, always rise superior to the distant interests pointed out in his future welfare, or the remote evils with which he is threatened; which always appear doubtful, whenever he compares them with present advantages.
Thus superstition, far from making man virtuous by principle, does nothing more than impose upon him a yoke as severe as it is useless; it is borne by none but enthusiasts, or by the pusillanimous; who, without becoming better, tremblingly champ the feeble bit put into their mouth; who are either rendered unhappy by their opinions, or dangerous by their tenets; indeed, experience, that faithful monitor, incontestibly proves, that superstition is a dyke inadequate to resist the torrent of corruption, to which so many accumulated causes give an irresistible force: nay more, does not this superstition itself augment the public disorder, by the dangerous passions which it lets loose, by the conduct which it sanctions, by the actions which it consecrates? Virtue, in almost every climate, is confined to some few rational souls, who have sufficient strength of mind to resist the stream of prejudice; who are contented by remunerating themselves with the benefits they difuse over society: whose temperate dispositions are gratified with the suffrages of a small number of virtuous approvers; in short, who are detached from those frivolous advantages which the injustice of society but too commonly accords only to baseness, which it rarely bestows, except to intrigue, with which in general it rewards nothing but crime.
In despite of the injustice that reigns in the world, there are, however, some virtuous men in the bosom even of the most degenerate nations; notwithstanding the general depravity, there are some benevolent beings, still enamoured of virtue; who are fully acquainted with its true value; who are sufficiently enlightened to know that it exacts homage even from its enemies; who to use the language of ECCLESIASTES, "rejoice in their own works_;" who are, at least, happy in possessing contented minds, who are satisfied with concealed pleasures, those internal recompences of which no earthly power is competent to deprive them. The honest man acquires a right to the esteem, has a just claim to the veneration, wins the confidence, gains the love, even of those whose conduct is exposed by a contrast with his own. In short, vice is obliged to cede to virtue; of which it blushingly, though unwillingly, acknowledges the superiority. Independent of this ascendancy so gentle, of this superiority so grand, of this pre-eminence so infallible, when even the whole universe should be unjust to him, when even every tongue should cover him with venom, when even every arm should menace him with hostility, there yet remains to the honest man the sublime advantage of loving his own conduct; the ineffable pleasure of esteeming himself; the unalloyed gratification of diving with satisfaction into the recesses of his own heart; the tranquil delight of contemplating his own actions with that delicious complacency that others ought to do, if they were not hood-winked, No power is adequate to ravish from him the merited esteem of himself; no authority is sufficiently potent to give it to him when he deserves it not; the mightiest monarch cannot lend stability to this esteem, when it is not well founded; it is then a ridiculous sentiment: it ought to be considered, it really is "_vanity and vexation of spirit_," it is not wisdom, but folly in the extreme; it ought to be censured when it displays itself in a mode that is mortifying to its neighbour, in a manner that is troublesome to others; it is then called ARROGANCE; it is called VANITY; but when it cannot be condemned, when it is known for legitimate when it is discovered to have a solid foundation, when it bottoms itself upon talents, when it rises upon great actions that are useful to the community, when it erects its edifice upon virtue; even though society should not set these merits at their just price, it is NOBLE PRIDE, ELEVATION OF MIND, and GRANDEUR OF SOUL.
Of what consequence then, is it to listen to those superstitious beings, those enemies to man's happiness, who have been desirous of destroying it, even in the inmost recesses of his heart; who have prescribed to him hatred of his follower; who have filled him with contempt for himself; who pretend to wrest from the honest man that self-respect which is frequently the only reward that remains to virtue, in a perverse world. To annihilate in him this sentiment, so full in justice, this love of himself, is to break the most powerful spring, to weaken the most efficacious stimulus, that urges him to act right; that spurs him on to do good to his fellow mortals. What motive, indeed, except it be this, remains for him in the greater part of human societies? Is not virtue discouraged? Is not honesty contemned? Is not audacious crime encouraged? Is not subtle intrigue eulogized? Is not cunning vice rewarded? Is not love of the public weal taxed as folly; exactitude in fulfilling duties looked upon as a bubble? Is not compassion laughed to scorn? ARE NOT TRAITORS DISTINGUISHED BY PUBLIC HONORS? Is not negligence of morals applauded,—sensibility derided,—tenderness scoffed,—conjugal fidelity jeered,—sincerity despised,—enviolable friendship treated with ridicule: while seduction, adultery, hard- heartedness, punic faith, avarice, and fraud, stalk forth unabashed, decked in gorgeous array, lauded by the world? Man must have motives for action: he neither acts well nor ill, but with a view to his own happiness: that which he judges will conduce to this "consummation so devoutly to be wished," he thinks his interest; he does nothing gratuitously; when reward for useful actions is withheld from him, he is reduced either to become as abandoned as others, or else to remunerate himself with his own applause.
This granted; the honest man can never be completely unhappy; he can never be entirely deprived of the recompence which is his due; virtue is competent to repay him for all the benefits he may bestow on others; can amply make up to him all the happiness denied him by public opinion; but nothing can compensate to him the want of virtue. It does not follow that the honest man will be exempted from afflictions: like, the wicked, he is subject to physical evils; he may pine in indigence; he may be deprived of friendship; he may be worn down with disease; he may frequently be the subject of calumny; he may be the victim to injustice; he may be treated with ingratitude; he may be exposed to hatred; but in the midst of all his misfortunes, in the very bosom of his sorrows, in the extremity of his vexation, he finds support in himself; he is contented with his own conduct; he respects himself; he feels his own dignity; he knows the equity of his rights; he consoles himself with the confidence inspired by the justness of his cause; he cheers himself amidst the most sullen circumstances. These supports are not calculated for the wicked; they avail him nothing: equally liable with the honest man to infirmities, equally submitted to the caprices of his destiny, equally the sport of a fluctuating world, he finds the recesses of his own heart filled with dreadful alarms; diseased with care; cankered with solitude; corroded with regret; gnawed by remorse; he dies within himself; his conscience sustains him not but loads him with reproach; his mind, overwhelmed, sinks beneath its own turpitude; his reflection is the bitter dregs of hemlock; maddening anguish holds him to the mirror that shews him his own deformity; that recalls unhallowed deeds; gloomy thoughts rush on his too faithful memory; despondence benumbs him; his body, simultaneously assailed on all sides, bends under the storm of—his own unruly passions; at last despair grapples him to her filthy bosom, he flies from himself. The honest man is not an insensible Stoic; virtue does not procure impassibility; honesty gives no exemption from misfortune, but it enables him to bear cheerly up against it; to cast off despair, to keep his own company: if he is infirm, if he is worn with disease, he has less to complain of than the vicious being who is oppressed with sickness, who is enfeebled by years; if he is indigent, he is less unhappy in his poverty; if he is in disgrace, he can endure it with fortitude, he is not overwhelmed by its pressure, like the wretched slave to crime.
Thus the happiness of each individual depends on the cultivation of his temperament; nature makes both the happy and the unhappy; it is culture that gives value to the soil nature has formed; it is instruction that makes the fruit it produces palatable; It is reflection that makes it useful. For man to be happily born, is to have received from nature a sound body, organs that act with precision—a just mind, a heart whose passions are analogous, whose desires are conformable to the circumstances in which his destiny has placed him: nature, then, has done every thing for him, when she has joined to these faculties the quantum of vigour, the portion of energy, sufficient to enable him to obtain those Proper things, which his station, his mode of thinking, his temperament, have rendered desirable. Nature has made him a fatal present, when she has filled his sanguinary vessels with an over-heated fluid; when she has given him an imagination too active; when she has infused into him desires too impetuous; when he has a hankering after objects either impossible or improper to be obtained under his circumstances; or which at least he cannot procure without those incredible efforts, that either place his own welfare in danger or disturb the repose of society. The most happy man, is commonly he who possesses a peaceful soul; who only desires those things which he can procure by labour, suitable to maintain his activity; which he can obtain without causing those shocks, that are either too violent for society, or troublesome to his associates. A philosopher whose wants are easily satisfied, who is a stranger, to ambition, who is contented with the limited circle of a small number of friends, is, without doubt a being much more happily constituted than an ambitious conqueror, whose greedy imagination is reduced to despair by having only one world to ravage. He who is happily born, or whom nature has rendered susceptible of being conveniently modified, is not a being injurious to society: it is generally disturbed by men who are unhappily born, whose organization renders them turbulent; who are discontented with their destiny; who are inebriated with their own licentious passions; who are infatuated with their own vile schemes; who are smitten with difficult enterprises; who set the world in combustion, to gather imaginary benefits in order to attain which they must inflict he heaviest curses on mankind, but in which they make their own happiness consist. An ALEXANDER requires the destruction of empires, nations to be deluged with blood, cities to be laid in ashes, its inhabitants to be exterminated, to content that passion for glory, of which he has formed to himself a false idea; but which his too ardent imagination, his too vehement mind anxiously thirsts after: for a DIOGENES there needs only a tub with the liberty of appearing whimsical; a SOCRATES wants nothing but the pleasure of forming disciples to virtue.
Man by his organization is a being to whom motion is always necessary; he must therefore always desire it: this is the reason why too much facility In procuring the objects of his search, renders them quickly insipid. To feel happiness, it is necessary to make efforts to obtain it; to find charms in its enjoyment, it is necessary that the desire should be whetted by obstacles; he is presently disgusted with those benefits which have cost him but little pains. The expectation of happiness, the labour requisite to procure it, the varied prospects it holds forth, the multiplied pictures which his imagination forms to him, supply his brain with that motion for which it has occasion; this gives impulse to his organs, puts his whole machine into activity, exercises his faculties, sets all his springs in play, in a word, puts him into that agreeable activity, for the want of which the enjoyment of happiness itself cannot compensate him. Action is the true element of the human mind; as soon as it ceases to act, it falls into disgust, sinks into lassitude. His soul has the same occasion for ideas, his stomach has for aliment.
Thus the impulse given him by desire, is itself a great benefit; it is to the mind what exercise is to the body; without it he would not derive any pleasure in the aliments presented to him; it is thirst that renders the pleasure of drinking so agreeable; life is a perpetual circle of regenerated desires and wants satisfied: repose is only a pleasure to him who labours; it is a source of weariness, the cause of sorrow, the spring of vice to him who has nothing to do. To enjoy without interruption is not to enjoy any thing: the man who has nothing to desire is certainly more unhappy than he who suffers.
These reflections, grounded upon experience, drawn from the fountain of truth, ought to prove to man, that good as well as evil depends on the essence of things. Happiness to be felt cannot be continued. Labour is necessary, to make intervals between his pleasures; his body has occasion for exercise, to co-order him with the beings who surround him; his heart must have desires; trouble alone can give him the right relish of his welfare; it is this which puts in the shadows, this which furnishes the true perspective to the picture of human life. By an irrevocable law of his destiny, man is obliged to be discontented with his present condition; to make efforts to change it; to reciprocally envy that felicity which no individual enjoys perfectly. Thus the poor man envies the opulence of his richer neighbour, although this is frequently more unhappy than his needy maligner; thus the rich man views with pain the advantages of a poverty, which he sees active, healthy, and frequently jocund, even in the bosom of penury.
If man was perfectly contented, there would no longer be any activity in the world; it is necessary that he should desire; it is requisite that he should act; it is incumbent he should labour, in order that he may be happy: such is the course of nature of which the life consists in action. Human societies can only subsist, by the continual exchange of those things in which man places his happiness. The poor man is obliged to desire, he is necessitated to labour, that he may procure what he knows is requisite to the preservation of his existence; the primary wants given to him by nature, are to nourish himself, clothe himself, lodge himself, and propagate his species; has he satisfied these? He is quickly obliged to create others entirely new; or rather, his imagination only refines upon the first; he seeks to diversify them; he is willing to give them fresh zest; arrived at opulence, when he has run over the whole circle of wants, when he has completely exhausted their combinations, he falls into disgust. Dispensed from labour, his body amasses humours; destitute of desires, his heart feels a languor; deprived of activity, he is obliged to participate his riches, with beings more active, more laborious than himself: these, following their own peculiar interests, take upon themselves the task of labouring for his advantage; of procuring for him means to satisfy his want; of ministering to his caprices, in order to remove the languor that oppresses him. It is thus the great, the rich excite the energies, give play to the activity, rouse the faculties, spur on the industry of the indigent; these labour to their own peculiar welfare by working for others: thus the desire of ameliorating his condition, renders man necessary to his fellow man; thus wants, always regenerating, never satisfied, are the principles of life,—the soul of activity,—the source of health,—the basis of society. If each individual was competent to the supply of his own exigencies, there would be no occasion for him to congregate in society; but it is his wants, his desires, his whims, that place him in a state of dependence on others: these are the causes that each individual, in order to further his own peculiar interest, is obliged to be useful to those, who have the capability of procuring for him the objects which he himself has not. A nation is nothing more than the union of a great number of individuals, connected with each other by the reciprocity of their wants; by their mutual desire of pleasure. The most happy man is he who has the fewest wants, and who has the most numerous means of satisfying them. The man who would be truly rich, has no need to increase his fortune, it suffices he should diminish his wants.
In the individuals of the human species, as well as in political society, the progression of wants, is a thing absolutely necessary; it is founded upon the essence of man, it is requisite that the natural wants once satisfied, should be replaced by those which he calls Imaginary, or wants of the Fancy: these become as necessary to his happiness as the first. Custom, which permits the native American to go quite naked, obliges the more civilized inhabitant of Europe to clothe himself; the poor man contents himself with very simple attire, which equally serve him for winter and for summer, for autumn and for spring; the rich man desires to have garments suitable to each mutation of these seasons; he would experience pain if he had not the convenience of changing his raiment with every variation of his climate; he would be wretched if he was obliged to wear the same habiliments in the heat of summer, which he uses in the winter; in short, he would be unhappy if the expence and variety of his costume did not display to the surrounding multitude his opulence, mark his rank, announce his superiority. It is thus habit multiplies, the wants of the wealthy; it is thus that vanity itself becomes a want which sets a thousand hands in, motion, a thousand heads to work, who are all eager to gratify its cravings; in short, this very vanity procures for the necessitous man, the means of subsisting at the expense of his opulent neighbours He who is accustomed to pomp, who is used to ostentatious splendour, whose habits are luxurious, whenever he is deprived of these insignia of opulence, to which he has attached the idea of happiness, finds himself just as unhappy as the needy wretch who has not wherewith to cover his nakedness. The civilized nations of the present day were in their origin savages composed of erratic tribes,—mere wanderers who were occupied with war; employed in, the chace; painfully obliged to seek precarious subsistence by hunting in those woods which the industry of their successors has cleared; which their labour has covered with yellow waving ears of nutritious corn; in time they have become stationary: they first applied themselves to Agriculture, afterwards to commerce: by degrees they have refined on their primitive wants, extended their sphere of action, given birth to a thousand new wants, imagined a thousand new means to satisfy them; this is the natural course, the necessary progression, the regular march of active beings, who cannot live without feeling; who to be happy, must of necessity diversify their sensations. In proportion as man's wants multiply the means to satisfy them becomes more difficult, he is obliged to depend on a greater number of his fellow creatures; his interest obliges him to rouse their activity; to engage them to concur with his views; consequently he is obliged to procure for them those objects by which they can be excited; he is under the necessity of contenting their desires, which increase like his own, by the very food that satisfies them. The savage needs only put forth his hand to gather the fruit that offers itself spontaneously to his reach: this he finds sufficient for his nourishment. The opulent citizen of a flourishing society is obliged to set innumerable hands to work to produce the sumptuous repast; the four quarters of the globe are ransacked to procure the far-fetched viands become necessary to revive his languid appetite; the merchant, the sailor, the mechanic, leave nothing unattempted to flatter his inordinate vanity. From this it will appear, that in the same proportion the wants of man are multiplied, he is obliged to augment the means to satisfy them. Riches are nothing more than the measure of a convention, by the assistance of which man is enabled to make a great number of his fellows concur in the gratification of his desires; by which he is capacitated to invite them, for their own peculiar interests, to contribute to his pleasures. What, in fact, does the rich man do, except announce to the needy, that he can furnish him with the means of subsistence if he consents to lend himself to his will? What does the man in power, except shew to others, that he is in a state to supply the requisites to render them happy? Sovereigns, nobles, men of wealth, appear to be happy, only because they possess the ability, are masters of the motives sufficient to determine a great number of individuals to occupy themselves with their respective felicity.