« PoprzedniaDalej »
Lady. Yes; and, without a compliment, as pretty a piece of godship as one would wish to see: you only yield to Apollo in beauty.
Merc. Your encomiums will make me vain; but Bacchus, you should remember, has precedence of me.
Lady. Bacchus! Bacchus can never enter into competition with you on the score of beauty. That woman would be the happiest creature living who should—but, if I mistake not, your godship is married?
Merc. Married! no, no, my buxom widow, I have too much of the immortal in my composition for that. Lady. You surprise me! why I always understood that Mrs. Venus
Merc. Poh, poh, my sister. But what do you discover in air and manner, my that you should suppose me dwindled into that obsequious animal, a husband? Lady. Why, to confess the truth, your manner is rather too gallant and degagée for such a character.
Merc. And yet I am not remarkable for love and gallantry; 'tis honour I am in search of, and, as the poet sings
Honour is like a widow, won
Lady. Pray, Mr. Mercury, what do you mean by such an insinuation? There is not any man on earth, however "brisk his attempt," that could prevail with me. Merc. Prevail with you! No, no, it is very easy to discover that your virtue serves as an impregnable fortress to you. Danaë in her brazen tower was less
secure; but, though a man has so little chance of succeeding with you, yet Mercury
Lady. Is not to be opposed; I acknowledge your power, and submit to it.
SCENE-THE ELYSIAN FIELDS.
GENEROSUS and PHILANTHROPOS.
Gen. How say you; that you died—perished through absolute want?
Phil. Even, so; 'tis as true as I am now an immortal spirit. Such, alas! was my body's suffering; such its miserable end.
Gen. And that too, in England, the land of plenty; and in a refined and elegant age!
Phil. You are, I perceive, a man of feeling, and, you must give me leave to add, but little acquainted with the world. The refinement and elegance you hint at, and which you think should lead to benevolence, and all the milder virtues and affections, are, in fact, their great and invariable destroyers.
Gen. Nay, you are more mistaken in the matter than myself. You, I find, allude to the affected nicety, to the glittering superficiality, of the times; while I, in speaking of the refinement and elegance of the age, am wholly intent on intellectual endowments and perfections,—and sincerely lament, that men in becoming wise, should not also become good.
Phil. Their wisdom you must allow me to doubt. I do not think, however, that all among my countrymen have been wanting, at times, in moral goodness, or in charity towards their fellows: but there is, in the major part of them, a light indifference to the complaints of others; which, however strange it may appear to you, most certainly proceeds from the largeness of their possessions, and the riot and luxury in which they live. I am a lover of mankind, and would sacrifice even my own
comforts to do them service; and thus, reflecting on the world's unkindness, and on the coolness of the great and powerful towards the deserving, causes me to feel many a severe pang.
Appear, when next you meet, as cold as great ones
When merit begs,
says a poet of eminence; and most truly has he said. And another
Ah! little think the gay licentious proud,
Whom pleasure, power, and affluence surround-
And all the sad variety of pain.
Gen. "Alas! poor hurt fowl!" It must be permitted to send forth its cries.
Has Heaven reserv'd, in pity to the poor,
Feelings and wishes, like to these-and which I believe were really felt by Dr. Johnson, at the moment of writing the lines-you have doubtless experienced many times.
Phil. Such, indeed, have been my wishes, not only for myself, but others; so great, so many, are the evils and miseries of life-of civilized life.
Gen. Your ill opinion of civilized life seems deeply rooted; and were you to attempt a description of the calamities incident to our terrestrial nature, not Hegesias himself, I imagine, could possibly surpass you.
Phil. Life, simply considered, or with little relation to manners, has certainly comforts and advantages for those who are mindful to seize on them. "Is it not," says the divine Euripides, "a glorious thing to live and behold the light?" In speaking of the distresses of men, I allude not to the natural, but moral evils so generally found.
Gen. You look on human nature, then, with nearly the same eye as the Duke de Rochefoucault, who, you
may remember, has been censured by many, as drawing too gloomy a picture of the objects surrounding him.
Phil. I see it in precisely the same colours as De la Rochefoucault. His picture is uncommonly faithful and just; and his defence, as set up by the celebrated Helvetius, must be satisfactory to every observing man. "La connaissance de ces idées (les idées de l'amourpropre), aurait préservé M. de la Rochefoucault du reproche tant répété, qu'il voyait l'humanité trop en noir; il l'a connue telle qu'elle est. Je conviens que la vue nette de l'indifférence de presque tous les hommes à notre égard est un spectacle affligeant pour notre vanité; mais, enfin, il faut prendre les hommes comme ils sont. S'irriter contre les effets de leur amour-propre, c'est se plaindre des giboulées du printemps, des ardeurs de l'été, des pluies de l'automne, et des glaces de l'hiver."*
Gen. This is a concise but able justification of that excellent philosopher. In the passage, however, which you have quoted from Helvetius, whose reasoning, it must at the same time be owned, is generally cogent and close, I do not clearly perceive in what manner our pride should be so greatly hurt at the base indifference of man to man; unless, indeed, he means in the persons of those who are soliciting-who " duck the learned pate to the golden fool."+ With others, who are at the same time possessed of virtue, it must be precisely the reverse. The degeneracy of their fellows necessarily gives them an opportunity of showing themselves to advantage, and their pride is consequently gratified by the event; for, to prove himself superior to common mortals, and be linked to "an higher order," (as a late philosopher has termed it, when virtue, truth, and beneficence were found to predominate in the breast,) must surely be the height of ambition in man.
Phil. "What we resemble the gods in most," says a + Ben Jonson.
* De l'Esprit.
heathen moralist, are truth and beneficence:" the very excellences at which you point. Since you speak of "an higher order," how beautiful is the sentiment of an Indian philosopher, which I will give you in the words of the admired writer who has recorded it. "Entendraije toujours, disait un philosophe Indien, les riches s'écrier Seigneur, frappe quiconque nous dérobe la moindre parcelle de nos biens; tandis que, d'un voix plaintive et les mains étendues vers le ciel, le pauvre dit: Seigneur, fais-moi part des biens que tu prodigues au riche; et si de plus infortunés m'en enlèvent une partie, je n'implorerai point ta vengeance, et je considerai ces larcins de l'oeil dont on voit, au temps des semailles, les colombes se répandre dans les champs pour y chercher leur nourriture."
Gen. This sentiment is certainly the effusion of a benevolent heart, and might, could we boast of another "golden age," be entitled to praise; but, in the present state of the world, it is both morally and politically wrong; and such kind of indulgence, or lenity, would open a door to repeated impositions. The honest man who cannot find employment, and the desperate villain who will not engage in it,-and between whom, perhaps, we cannot immediately distinguish,-may be equally poor; and, consequently, on the principle laid down by the Indian, expect to become both, in some sort, partakers in our possessions. You may, on a little reflection, perceive what a torrent of abuses would be let in by passing over the depredations in question, however small; and that this toleration, were it once admitted in some few instances, would shortly lead to contention for a community of goods; and which, although it has been seriously taken up by many of our countrymen, is certainly, in the highest degree Utopian.
Phil. The honest and the dishonest must then be equally objects of neglect?
Gen. I say not that; there is provision for the honest but indigent man.