No. 601. Friday, October 1, 1714. Henry Grove.

[Greek: Ho anthrôpos euergetòs pephykôs'
Antonin. Lib. 9.]

The following Essay comes from an Hand which has entertained my Readers once before. [1]

Notwithstanding a narrow contracted Temper be that which obtains most in the World, we must not therefore conclude this to be the genuine Characteristick of Mankind; because there are some who delight in nothing so much as in doing Good, and receive more of their Happiness at second hand, or by rebound from others, than by direct and immediate Sensation. Now tho' these Heroic Souls are but few, and to Appearance so far advanced above the groveling Multitude, as if they were of another Order of Beings, yet in Reality their Nature is the same, moved by the same Springs, and endowed with all the same essential Qualities, only cleared, refined, and cultivated.

Water is the same fluid Body in Winter and in Summer; when it stands stiffened in Ice as when it flows along in gentle Streams gladdening a thousand Fields in its Progress. 'Tis a Property of the Heart of Man to be diffusive: Its kind Wishes spread abroad over the Face of the Creation; and if there be those, as we may observe too many of them, who are all wrapt up in their own dear selves, without any visible Concern for their Species, let us suppose that their Good-nature is frozen, and by the prevailing Force of some contrary Quality restrained in its Operations. I shall therefore endeavour to assign some of the principal Checks upon this generous Propension of the Human Soul, which will enable us to judge whether, and by what Method, this most useful Principle may be unfettered, and restored to its native Freedom of Exercise.

The first and leading Cause is an unhappy Complexion of Body. The Heathens, ignorant of the true Source of Moral Evil, generally charged it on the Obliquity of Matter, which, being eternal and independent, was incapable of Change in any of its Properties, even by the Almighty Mind, who, when He came to fashion it into a World of Beings, must take it as he found it. This Notion, as most others of theirs, is a Composition of Truth and Error. That Matter is eternal, that from the first Union of a Soul to it, it perverted its Inclinations, and that the ill Influence it hath upon the Mind is not to be corrected by God himself, are all very great Errors, occasioned by a Truth as evident, that the Capacities and Dispositions of the Soul depend, to a great Degree, on the bodily Temper. As there are some Fools, others are Knaves, by Constitution; and particularly, it may be said of many, that they are born with an illiberal Cast of Mind; the Matter that composes them is tenacious as Birdlime, and a kind of Cramp draws their Hands and their Hearts together, that they never care to open them unless to grasp at more. 'Tis a melancholy Lot this; but attended with one Advantage above theirs, to whom it would be as painful to forbear good Offices, as it is to these Men to perform them; that whereas Persons naturally Beneficent often mistake Instinct for Virtue, by reason of the Difficulty of distinguishing when one rules them and when the other, Men of the opposite Character may be more certain of the Motive that predominates in every Action. If they cannot confer a Benefit with that Ease and Frankness which are necessary to give it a Grace in the Eye of the World, in requital, the real Merit of what they do is inhanc'd by the Opposition they surmount in doing it. The Strength of their Virtue is seen in rising against the Weight of Nature, and every time they have the Resolution to discharge their Duty, they make a Sacrifice of Inclination to Conscience, which is always too grateful to let its Followers go without suitable Marks of its Approbation. Perhaps the entire Cure of this ill Quality is no more possible, than of some Distempers that descend by Inheritance. However, a great deal may be done by a Course of Beneficence obstinately persisted in; this, if any thing, being a likely way of establishing a moral Habit, which shall be somewhat of a Counterpoise to the Force of Mechanism. Only it must be remembred, that we do not intermit, upon any Pretence whatsoever, the Custom of doing Good, in regard if there be the least Cessation, Nature will watch the Opportunity to return, and in a short time to recover the Ground it was so long in quitting: For there is this Difference between mental Habits, and such as have their Foundation in the Body; that these last are in their Nature more forcible and violent, and, to gain upon us, need only not to be opposed; whereas the former must be continually reinforced with fresh Supplies, or they will languish and die away. And this suggests the Reason why good Habits, in general, require longer time for their Settlement than bad, and yet are sooner displaced; the Reason is, that vicious Habits (as Drunkenness for Instance) produce a Change in the Body, which the others not doing, must be maintained the same way they are acquired, by the mere Dint of Industry, Resolution, and Vigilance.

Another Thing which suspends the Operations of Benevolence, is the Love of the World; proceeding from a false Notion Men have taken up, that an Abundance of the World is an essential Ingredient into the Happiness of Life. Worldly Things are of such a Quality as to lessen upon dividing, so that the more Partners there are, the less must fall to every Man's private Share. The Consequence of this is, that they look upon one another with an evil Eye, each imagining all the rest to be embarked in an Interest, that cannot take Place but to his Prejudice. Hence are those eager Competitions for Wealth or Power; hence one Man's Success becomes another's Disappointment; and, like Pretenders to the same Mistress, they can seldom have common Charity for their Rivals. Not that they are naturally disposed to quarrel and fall out, but 'tis natural for a Man to prefer himself to all others, and to secure his own Interest first. If that which Men esteem their Happiness were like the Light, the same sufficient and unconfined Good, whether Ten Thousand enjoy the Benefit of it, or but One, we should see Mens Good-will, and kind Endeavours, would be as universal.

'Homo qui Erranti comiter monstrat Viam, Quasi Lumen de suo Lumine accendat, facit, Nihilominus ipsi luceat, cum illi accenderit.'

But, unluckily, Mankind agree in making Choice of Objects, which inevitably engage them in perpetual Differences. Learn therefore, like a wise Man, the true Estimate of Things. Desire not more of the World than is necessary to accommodate you in passing through it; look upon every thing beyond, not as useless only, but burthensome. Place not your Quiet in Things, which you cannot have without putting others beside them, and thereby making them your Enemies; and which, when attain'd, will give you more Trouble to keep, than Satisfaction in the Enjoyment. Virtue is a Good of a nobler kind; it grows by Communication, and so little resembles earthly Riches, that the more Hands it is lodged in, the greater is every Man's particular Stock. So, by propagating and mingling their Fires, not only all the Lights of a Branch together cast a more extensive Brightness, but each single Light burns with a stronger Flame. And lastly, take this along with you, that if Wealth be an Instrument of Pleasure, the greatest Pleasure it can put into your Power, is that of doing Good. 'Tis worth considering, that the Organs of Sense act within a narrow Compass, and the Appetites will soon say they have enough: which of the two therefore is the happier Man? He, Who confining all his Regard to the Gratification of his own Appetites, is capable but of short Fits of Pleasure? Or the Man, who, reckoning himself a Sharer in the Satisfactions of others, especially those which come to them by his Means, enlarges the Sphere of his Happiness?

The last Enemy to Benevolence I shall mention is Uneasiness of any Kind. A guilty, or a discontented Mind, a Mind ruffled by ill Fortune, disconcerted by its own Passions, sowered by Neglect, or fretting at Disappointments, hath not Leisure to attend to the Necessity or Reasonableness of a Kindness desired, nor a Taste for those Pleasures which wait on Beneficence, which demand a calm and unpolluted Heart to relish them. The most miserable of all Beings is the most envious; as, on the other hand, the most communicative is the happiest. And if you are in search of the Seat of perfect Love and Friendship, you will not find it till you come to the Region of the Blessed, where Happiness, like a refreshing Stream, flows from Heart to Heart in an endless Circulation, and is preserv'd sweet and untainted by the Motion. 'Tis old Advice, if you have a Favour to request of any one, to observe the softest times of Address, when the Soul, in a Flush of good Humour, takes a Pleasure to shew it self pleased. Persons conscious of their own integrity, satisfied with themselves, and their Condition, and full of Confidence in a Supreme Being, and the Hope of Immortality, survey all about them with a Flow of Good-will. As Trees which like their Soil, they shoot out in Expressions of Kindness and bend beneath their own precious Load, to the hand of the Gatherer. Now if the Mind be not thus easie, 'tis an infallible Sign that it is not in its natural State; Place the Mind in its right Posture, it will immediately discover its innate Propension to Beneficence.

[Footnote 1: No. 588.]

Translation of motto:
ANTONIN. lib. 9.
'Man is naturally a beneficent creature.'