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sufficiently account for the establishment of the general law, and where mankind are allowed perfect freedom of investigation, it is impossible that any well-founded rational sentiment, universally received, can ever be superseded by an opinion at once false, absurd, and ridiculous.
N one of the admired discourses published fome
years since by a celebrated Profeffor of Rhetoric, we meet with the following passage: “ Un
just are our complaints of the promiscuous “ distribution made by Providence of its favours
among men; from superficial views such com* plaints arise. The distribution of the goods of “ fortune indeed may often be promiscuous, that “ is, disproportioned to the moral characters of
men; but the allotment of real happiness is never so."
Now I confess that such a view and representation of human life as this, appears to me no better than a romance; and I am at a loss to conceive what good purpose can be answered by attempting to disguise the real truth, especially when it lies so open to every man's experience and observation. In order to form any just conclusion, the preacher indeed tells us, that “ we must have a faculty by which we can look into the inside of hearts;” but as I presume the learned Professor does not mean to intimate that he is exclusively endowed with any such power, I think myfelf at
full liberty to argue from the usual data; and, notwithstanding the peremptory tone of this decision, I will venture to affirm, that according to the most accurate obfervations I have been able to make on human life, Virtue and Happiness are not inseparably united; that when they are found In actual union, it sesdom happens that the degree of Happiness enjoyed by any individual bears an exact proportion to the degree of Virtue he poffesses; and in no inítance perhaps is that precise degree of Happiness the sole and necessary result of the virtuous principle. It may be thought that these are very dangerous concessions, such as tend to weaken the interests of Virtue, and if generally teceived, to discourage mankind from the practice of it; but I have myself no idea that the interests of Virtue can ever be promoted by deserting the interests of truth, nor do I admit that any truth can be stiled dangerous, if exhibited in a just light, and in its proper connection. If weak and erroliegus arguments are employed to induce men to become virtuous, it seems to me a real service to the general cause of Virtue, to expose the fallacy of them, and to erect her empire upon a firm and permanent basis. A man who enters life under a persuasion that Virtue and Happiness are inseparably united, and that Happiness bears a certain and determinate ratio to Virtue, and who forms a resolution of leading a life of Virtue upon fo narrow and selfish a prin. ciple, will find the ground upon which he stands very unstable and slippery; and when that persuasion is once shaken, which will infalliblyo happen from a more enlarged acquaintance with the world, he must be in imminent danger of apostatizing from those principles and resolutions upon which he proposed to regulate his conduct. In attempting to ascertain the importance of a virtuous condu& and disposition, we must proceed upon one of these three suppositions : First, That it is absolutely certain, mankind are destined for a future state of existence, and that their happiness or misery in that state will bear an exact proportion to the degrees of moral excellence or depravity to which they have arrived in the present life.-Secondly, That it is not certain that this will, but only probable that this may, be the case ; and the degree of this probability may be infinitely varied in the apprehension of different individuals, according to the different light in which they may happen to view the evidences of this great truth.—Or, Thirdly, That there is no evidence whatever of a future state, and that death will certainly put a final period to our existence. Upon the first of these suppositions it would be very superfluous to multiply arguments to prove that it is our highest interest to adopt that mode of conduct which is best calculated to secure our happiness throughout the endless duration to which we are destined. On the second supposition also it must be allowed, that extreme folly only can pollibly induce any man to deviate from the paths K 3
of Virtue, if there only remains a mere proba. bility that by such deviation his future and ever, lasting interests may be essentially affected. Of this, therefore, I may spare myself the trouble of adducing any formal proof; but upon the third supposition, it becomes a very nice and curious question indeed, how far it is the interest of a man to adhere inviolably, and in all circumstances, to the undeviating line of rectitude. In the general, I think it cannot possibly be doubted by any one, that Virtue is more favourable to Happiness than vice; but I should regard myself as undertaking an arduous task, if I attempted to persuade a man whose views extended no farther than this life, that his highest happiness depended upon his scrupulously conforming to the dictates of a pure and perfect morality. I should expect him to reply, if he spake the language of his heart, “ I am sensible that it is my interest to adhere to Virtue in the main, i., 6. fo far as my reputation in the world is at stake, so far as is necessary to restrain my passions or sensual indulgences within the bounds of moderation : in a word, I know it is my interest to preserve a sound mind in a sound body; but still there are exceptions to a plan of perfect rectitude, which it is also my interest to take advantage of; for instance, I hold an office of public trust, and I have an opportunity of embezzling large fums without the possibility of a discovery. By my personal attractions, I am enabled to captivate the affections of