« PreviousContinue »
if they would consider that we are prompted to natural pleasures, by an instinct impressed on our minds by the Author of our nature, who best understands our frames, and consequently best knows what those pleasures are, which will give us the least uneasiness in the pursuit, and the greatest satisfaction in the enjoyment of them. Hence it follows, that the object of our natural desires are cheap, and easy to be obtained; it being a maxim that holds throughout the whole system of created beings, “ that nothing is made in vain," much less the instincts and appetites of animals, which the benevolence, as well as the wisdom of the Deity is concerned to provide for. Nor is the fruition of those objects less pleasing, than the acquisition is easy; and the pleasure is heightened by the sense of having answered some natural end, and the consciousness of acting in concert with the Supreme Governor of the universe.
Under natural pleasures I comprehend those which are universally suited, as well to the rational as the sensual part of our nature. And of the pleasures which affect our senses, those only are to be esteemed natural, that are contained within the rules of reason, which is allowed to be as necessary an ingredient of human nature, as sense.
And indeed, excesses of any kind are hardly to be esteemed pleasures, much less natural pleasures.
It is evident that a desire terminated in money is fantastical; so is the desire of outward distinctions, which bring no delight of sense, nor recommend us as useful to mankind; and the desire of things, merely because they are new or foreign. Men who are indisposed to a due exertion of their higher parts, are driven to such pursuits as these, from the restlessness of the mind, and the sensitive appetites being easily satisfied. It is, in some sort, owing to the bounty of Providence, that, disdaining a cheap and vulgar happiness, they frame to themselves imaginary goods, in which there is nothing can raise desire, but the difficulty of obtaining them. Thus men become the contrivers of their own misery, as a punishment to themselves, for departing from the measures of nature. Having, by an habitual reflection on these truths, made them familiar, the effect is, that I, among a number of persons who have debauched their natural taste, see things in a peculiar light, which I have arrived at, not by any uncommon force of genius, or acquired knowledge, but only by unlearning the false notions instilled by custom and education.
The various objects that compose the world, were, by nature, formed to delight our senses; and as it is this alone that makes them desirable to an uncorrupted taste, a man may be said naturally to possess them, when he possesses those enjoyments which they are fitted by nature to yield. Hence it is usual with me to consider myself as having à natural property in every object that administers pleasure to me. When I am in the country, all the fine seats near the place of my residence, and to which I have access, I regard as mine. The same I think of the groves and fields where I walk, and muse on the folly of the civil landlord in London, who has the fantastical pleasure of draining dry rent into his coffers, but is a stranger to the fresh air and rural enjoyments. By these principles, I am possessed of half a dozen of the finest seats in England, which, in the eye of the law, belong to certain of my acquaintance, who, being men of business, choose to live near the court.
In some great families, where I choose to pass my time, a stranger would be apt to rank me with the other domestics; but, in my own thoughts and natural judgment, I am master of the house, and he who goes by that name is my steward, who eases me of the care of providing for myself the conveniencies and pleasures of life.
When I walk the streets, I use the foregoing natural maxim, viz. That he is the true possessor of a thing, who enjoys it, and not he that owns it without the enjoyment of it, to convince myself that I have a property in the gay part of all the gilt chariots that I meet, which I regard as amusements designed to delight my eyes, and the imagination of those kind people who sit in them, gaily attired, only to please me, I have a real, they only an imaginary pleasure, from their exterior embellishments. Upon the same principle, I have discovered that I am the natural proprietor of all the diamond necklaces, the crosses, stars, brocades, and embroidered clothes, which I see at a play or birthnight, as giving more natural delight to the spectator, than to those that wear them. And I look on the beaus and ladies as so many paroquets in an aviary, or tulips in a garden, designed purely for my diversion. A gallery of pictures, a cabinet or library, that I have free access to, I think my own. In a word, all that I desire, is the use of things, let who will have the keeping of them ; by which maxim I am grown one of the richest men in Great Britain;
with this difference—that I am not a prey to my own cares, or the envy of others.
The same principles I find of great use in my private economy. As I cannot go to the price of history painting, I have purchased, at easy rates, several beautifully designed pieces of landscape and perspective, which are much more pleasing to a natural taste, than unknown faces of Dutch gambols, though done by the best masters; my couches, beds, and window curtains, are of Irish stuff, which those of that nation work very fine, and with a delightful mixture of colours. There is not a piece of china in my house ; but I have glasses of all sorts, and some tinged with the finest colours; which are not the less pleasing because they are domestic, and cheaper than foreign toys. Every thing is neat, entire, and clean, and fitted to the taste of one who would rather be hạppy, than be thought rich.
Every day numberless innocent and natural gratifications occur to me, while I behold my fellow-creatures labouring in a toilsome and absurd pursuit of trifles; one, that he may be called by a particular appellation ; another, that he may wear a particular ornament, which I regard as a piece of riband, that has an agreeable effect on my sight, but is so far from supplying the place of merit, where it is not, that it serves only to make the want of it more conspicuous. Fair weather is the joy of my soul; about noon, I behold a blue sky with rapture, and receive great consolation from the rosy dashes of light, which adorn the clouds both morning and evening. When I am lost among the green trees, I do not envy a great man, with a great crowd at his levee And I often lay aside thoughts of going to an opera, that I may enjoy the silent pleasure of walking by moonlight, or viewing the stars sparkle in their azure ground; which I look upon as a part of my possessions, not without a secret indignation at the tastelessness of mortal men, who, in their race through life, overlook the real enjoyments of it.
But the pleasure which naturally affects a human mind with the most lively and transporting touches, I take to be the sense that we act in the eye of infinite wisdom, power and goodness, that will crown our virtuous endeavours here, with a happiness hereafter, large as our desires, and lasting as our immortal souls. This is a perpetual spring of gladness in the mind. This lessens our calamities, and doubles our joys. Without this, the highest state of life is insipid; and with it, the lowest is a paradise.
IV.—The Folly and Madness of Ambition illustrated. AMONG the variety of subjects with which you have entertained and instructed the public, I do not remember that you have any where touched upon the folly and madness of ambition; which, for the benefit of those who are dissatisfied with their present situations, I beg leave to illustrate, by giving the history of my own life.
I am the son of a younger brother, of a good family, who, at his decease, left me a little fortune of a hundred pounds a year. I was put early to Eton school, where I learnt Latin and Greek ; from which I went to the university, where I learnt- not totally to forget them. I came to my fortune while I was at college ; and having no inclination to follow any profession, I removed myself to town, and lived for some time as most young gentlemen do, by spending four times my income. But it was my happiness, before it was too late, to fall in love, and to marry a very amiable young creature, whose fortune was just sufficient to repair the breach made in my own.
With this agreeable companion I retreated to the country, and endeavoured, as well as I was able, to square my wishes to my circumstances. In this endeavour I succeeded so well, that, except a few private hankerings after a little more than I possessed, and now and then a sigh, when a coach and six happened to drive by me in my walks, I was a very happy
I can truly assure you, Mr. Fitz Adam, that though our family economy was not much to be boasted of, and in consequence of it, we were frequently driven to great straits 'and difficulties, I experienced more real satisfaction in this humble situation, than I have ever done since, in more enviable circumstances. We were sometimes a little in debt; but when money came in, the pleasure of discharging what we owed, was more than equivalent for the pain it put us to; and, though the narrowness of our circumstances subjected us to many cares and anxieties, it served to keep the body in action, as well as the mind; for, as our garden was somewhat large, and required more hands to keep it in order, than we could afford to hire, we laboured daily in it ourselves, and drew health our necessities.
I had a little boy, who was the delight of my heart, and who probably might have been spoilt by nursing, if the attention of his parents had not been otherwise employed.
His mother was naturally of a sickly constitution : but the affairs of her family, as they engrossed all her thoughts, gave her no time for complaint. The ordinary troubles of life, which, to those who have nothing else to think of, are almost insupportable, were less terrible to us, than to persons in easier circumstances; for it is a certain truth, however your readers may please to receive it, that where the mind is divided between many cares, the anxiety is lighter than where there is only one to contend with.
And even in the happiest situation, in the middle of ease, health, and affluence, the mind is generally ingenious at tormenting itself; losing the immediate enjoyment of those invaluable blessings, by the painful suggestion that they are too great for continuance.
These are the reflections that I have had since ; for I do not attempt to deny, that I sighed frequently for an addition to my fortune. The death of a distant relation, which happened five years after our marriage, gave me this addition, and made me for a time the happiest man living. My income was now increased to six hundred a year; and I hoped, with a little economy, to be able to make a figure with it. But the ill health of my wife, which in less easy circumstances had not touched me so nearly, was now constantly in my thoughts, and soured all my enjoyments. The consciousness, too, of having such an estate to leave my boy, made me so anxious to preserve him, that, instead of suffering him to run at pleasure, where he pleased, and grow hardy by exercise, I almost destroyed him by confinement. We now did nothing in our garden, because we were in circumstances to have it kept by others; but as air and exercise were necessary for our healths, we resolved to abridge ourselves in some unnecessary articles, and to set up an equipage. This, in time, brought with it a train of expenses, which we had neither prudence to foresee, nor courage to prevent. For as it enabled us to extend the circuit of our visits, it greatly increased our acquaintance, and subjected us to the necessity of making continual entertainments at home, in return for all those which we were invited to abroad. The charges that attended this new manner of living, were much too great for the income we possessed ; insomuch that we found ourselves, in a very short time, more necessitous than ever. Pride would not suffer us to lay down our equipage ; and to live in a manner unsuitable