ページの画像
PDF
ePub

This absurd and cruel fanaticism has succeeded in masking itself alike beneath the cowl of religion, and the mantle of philosophy; and it has allied itself, with equal plausibility, to the pride of the stoic, and to the humility of the saint. After all that we talk of the march of mind, the world has made but little progress in moral philosophy. In all ages it has been “ par les mêmes propos le même jargon;" and it is curious to find, in Lucian's treatise on dancing, (which is a defence of theatrical exhibitions against some sour-craut Prynne of the Porch,) precisely the same war between pleasure and pride, between nature and opinion, as is at this day waged in the conventicles of the sectarian zealots.

That the same practical errors, which proceeded from the self-abasement of the ascetics in the desert, should have flowed also from the stoic's lofty conceptions of human nature, is, however, more startling than unnatural. The fanaticism of honour and virtue is not less fanaticism, than that of religion ; it is not less exaggeration and irrationality. In both alike, temperament is more influential than argument, feeling more concerned than opinion; and both are alike founded on ignorance of the real nature of man, his organization, and his destiny.

In the earlier epochs of civilization, when the aspect of nature is rude and forbidding, and when social intercourse is replete with jealousies and dissensions, the conservative principle of life aroused by the rough excitement to a proportionate resistance-arms itself with a corresponding insensibility to the attacks of externals. Wherever suffering habitually outweighs enjoyment, an effeminate susceptibility to trifling sensations is destroyed by the frequency of heavier miseries : and necessity develops in the mind a conscious superiority to fortune, founded on the pride of opposition, and on an intimate conviction of its own energies. The incessant warfare of savage life renders the contempt of pain and death an indispensable virtue; and by a sophistry familiar under all circumstances, the animal forms for himself a system of notions, which strengthens him in the disposition congenial to the position of the moment. The philosophy of savages is stern, as their religion is gloomy: and

education and example are both brought to bear upon this desired case-hardening of the soul. The qualities which school-boys are taught to admire in the heroes of Roman story, exist in greater intensity among the red tribes of North America, than in the descendants of the wolf-suckled Ro. mulus.

In the history of a campaign in Canada, mention is made of a tribe, called The Devoted; whose ultra-stoical notions would gain credit for the story of a Scævola or a Regulus. One of this tribe, to prove to the British officers his contempt for pain, cut a large piece from his own flesh, and Aung it to the dogs. Yet these men the lowest condition of barbarism and social rude

were in

ness.

The external circumstances, which, by opposing man to natural evils, elevate and exalt his character, produce a very contrary effect, when they act through his misconceptions of their mysterious

Of physical evil the senses can judge with precision; and the individual, measuring his sufferings by his powers of resistance, acquires courage through the conviction of internal strength. But between man, and the intangible and inscrutable agents with which fear and ignorance people the universe, to “ ride the whirlwind and direct the storm,” there is no measurement, no compari

causes.

An intimate feeling of feebleness debases and degrades him; and there is nothing so absurd and revolting that he will not attempt, in the anguish of his despair, to appease the phantom with which he cannot contend. Confidence in the wisdom and benevolence of the Godhead is the slow growth of developed civilization, and habitual security and ease. The divinities of barbarians are ever cruel, vindictive, and capricious; and sanguinary and painful expiations, both personal and vicarious, are adopted, to purchase from heaven a reluctant abandonment of its threatened severity. * The religion of savages, under whatever specious names it is covered, has ever been essentially and practically a pure diabolism. The Scandinavians alone have been able to ally the belief in powerful and malignant deities, with the courage to oppose their wrath, by an heroic daring in acting and in suffering, boundless as the power with which it ventured to dispute.

son.

* The prevalence of these barbarous notions of the Deity, almost justifies the cynical observations of a French writer_“ Ce fut donc toujours dans l'attelier de la tristesse que l'homme malheureux a façonné le fantôme dont il a fait son Dieu.”

With an improvement in the destinies of the species, a change occurs both in the philosophical and the religious sentiments of nations. Upon the immense influx of wealth into Rome, which fol. lowed the conquest of Greece and Asia, vast amelioration ensued in the social condition of the people. The usurpation of Augustus was followed by a long period of peace; and the sterner virtues became unfashionable, because they were no longer compatible with external circumstances. A sudden revulsion took place in popular feeling ; and the Epicurean philosophy alone found favour in the

eyes

of those who had the means and the leisure for enjoyment.

“ Thessalian portents' ceased to alarm; the Augur laughed openly in the face of his brother impostor; and the clumsy state deities gave place, in the private creed of nobler spirits, to a speculative theism ; while the corrupt and the vicious (misunderstanding the language of Epicurus) were, upon system, what

« 前へ次へ »