Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and approbation, are all the advantages which we can propose to derive from it. It is the vanity, not the ease, or the pleasure, which interefts us. But vanity is always founded upon the belief of our being the object of attention and approbation. The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world, and that mankind are difposed to go along with him in all those agreeable emotions with which the advantages of his fituation so readily inspire him. At the thought of this, his heart feems to fwell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him. The poor man, on the contrary, is afhamed of his poverty. He feels that it either places him out of the fight of mankind, or, that if they take any notice of him, they have, however, scarce any fellow-feeling with the misery and diftrefs which he suffers. He is mortified upon both accounts; for though to be overlooked, and to be disapproved of, are things entirely different, yet as obfcurity covers us from the daylight of honor and approbation, to feel that we are taken no notice of, neceffarily damps the most agreeable hope, and disappoints the moft ardent defire, of human nature. The poor man goes out and comes in unheeded, and when in the midst of a crowd is in the fame obfcurity as if fhut up in his own hovel. Thofe humble cares and painful attentions which occupy thofe in his fituation, afford no amufement to the diffipated

and the gay. They turn away their eyes from him, or if the extremity of his distress forces them to look at him, it is only to fpurn fo difagreeable an object from among them. The fortunate and the proud wonder at the infolence of human wretchedness " that it fhould dare to present itself before them, and with the loathsome aspect of its mifery prefume to disturb the serenity of their happiness. The man of rank and diftinction, on the contrary, is obferved by all the world. Every body is eager to look at him, and to conceive, at least by fympathy, that joy and exultation with which his circumftances naturally inspire him. His actions are the objects of the public care. Scarce a word, scarce a gesture, can fall from him that is altogether neglected. In a great affembly he is the perfon upon whom all direct their eyes; it is upon him that their pasfions feem all to wait with expectation, in order to receive that movement and direction which he fhall imprefs upon them; and if his behaviour is not altogether abfurd, he has, every moment, an opportunity of interefting mankind, and of rendering himself the object of the obfervation and fellow-feeling of every body about him. It is this, which, notwithstanding the refraint it imposes, notwithstanding the loss of liberty with which it is attended, renders greatnefs the object of envy, and compenfates, in the opinion of mankind, all that toil, all that anxiety, all those mortifications which must be undergone in the pursuit of it; and what is of yet more consequence, all that leisure, all that ease, all that carelefs

[ocr errors]

1

careless fecurity, which are forfeited for ever by the acquifition.

When we confider the condition of the great, in those delufive colors in which the imagination is apt to paint it, it seems to be almost the abstract idea of a perfect and happy ftate. It is the very state which, in all our waking dreams and idle reveries, we had sketched out to ourselves as the final object of all our defires. We feel therefore, a peculiar fympathy with the fatisfaction of thofe who are in it. We favor all their inclinations, and forward all their wifhes. What pity, we think, that any thing fhould fpoil and corrupt so agreeable a fituation! We could even with them immortal; and it feems hard to us, that death fhould at laft put an end to fuch perfect enjoyment. It is cruel, we think, in Nature to compel them from their exalted stations to that humble, but hofpitable home, which the has provided for all her children. Great King, live for ever! is the compliment, which, after the manner of eastern adulation, we should readily make them, if experience did not teach us its abfurdity. Every calamity that befals them, every injury that is done them, excites in the breast of the spectator ten times more compaffion and resentment than he would have felt, had the fame things happened to other men. It is the misfortunes of Kings only which afford the proper fubjects for tragedy. They resemble, in this respect, the misfortunes of lovers. Thofe two fituations are the chief which intereft us upon the theatre, VOL. I. G

because, in spite of all that reason and experience can tell us to the contrary, the prejudices of the imagination attach to these two states a happiness fuperior to any other. To disturb, or to put an end to fuch perfect enjoyment, seems to be the most atrocious of all injuries. The traitor who confpires against the life of his monarch, is thought a greater monster than any other murderer. All the innocent blood that was shed in the civil wars, provoked lefs indignation than the death of Charles I. A ftranger to human nature, who faw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and fufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulfions of death more terrible to perfons of higher rank, than to thofe of meaner ftations.

Upon this difpofition of mankind, to go along with all the paffions of the rich and the powerful, is founded the diftinction of ranks, and the order of fociety. Our obfequiousness to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their good-will. Their benefits can extend but to a few; but their fortunes interest almost every body. We are eager to affist them in completing a system of happiness that approaches fo near to perfection; and we defire to ferve them for their own fake, without any other recompence but the vanity or the honor of obliging them. Neither is our deference to their inclinations founded chiefly, or altogether, upon a regard to

[ocr errors]

the utility of fuch fubmiffion, and to the order of fociety, which is best supported by it. Even when the order of fociety feems to require that we should oppose them, we can hardly bring ourselves to do it. That kings are the fervants of the people, to be obeyed, refifted, depofed, or punished, as the public conveniency may require, is the doctrine of reafon and philosophy; but it is not the doctrine of Nature. Nature would teach us to fubmit to them for their own fake, to tremble and bow down before their exalted station, to regard their smile as a reward fufficient to compenfate any fervices, and to dread their displeasure, though no other evil were to follow from it, as the feverest of all mortifications. To treat them in any refpect as men, to reason and dispute with them upon ordinary occafions requires fuch refolution, that there are few men whose magnanimity can fupport them in it, unlefs they are likewife affifted by familiarity and acquaintance. The strongest motives, the most furious paffions, fear, hatred, and refentment, are fcarce fufficient to balance this natural dif pofition to respect them: and their conduct muft, either juftly or unjustly, have excited the highest degree of all thofe paffions, before the bulk of the people can be brought to oppose them with violence, or to defire to, fee them either punished or depofed. Even when the people have been brought this length, they are apt to relent every moment, and eafily relapfe into their habitual ftate of deference to thofe whom they have been

་་

« AnteriorContinuar »