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It may be proper to acquaint the reader, that the following pages were designed as a sequel to the Second Edition of the Complaints of The Poor People Of England, printed in 1793. In those essays, or more properly speaking, statements of facts, the author, designedly, left some cases of distress unnoticed, which were entitled to particular attention. These will be found in the second and third chapters of the Second Part of this pamphlet; and little more was intended, on the present occasion, than to state those cases. The work professes, in the Title-page, to be a Dissertation, though the Second Part will be found to exhibit few characters of that species of writing. It, however, unfolds the secret wishes of the author; it exhibits an accurate representation of what he intended; and may be used by the benevolent reader as a Rerum tristium Commentariolus, A little Register Book of Distresses.
BENEVOLENCE IS INDEPENDENT IN ITS CHARACTER.
Goodness is defined by Dr. Samuel Johnson to be, desirable qualities, either moral or physical.
In this dissertation, the term stands for the most desirable of all moral qualities, kindness, a gentle and humane propensity, which inclines to sympathy, and which, by considerations of one common interest, as well as one common duty, impels those who possess it to be interested in the happiness of others. A good man is the well-wisher, and, to the utmost of his power, the benefactor of his species: one, to whom the unfortunate may look with confidence, whom they may consider as their friend.—To avoid, therefore, too frequent a use of the same word, goodness and benevolence will be often, in the following pages, made to express the same disposition.
Man is not only, morally considered, an imperfect being, but frail, considered physically. The imbecility of his nature compels him to look beyond himself for protection; his social propensities require a junction of hearts in his gratifications and enjoyments. Hence connexions are formed between man and man, and friendships cemented between persons of similar pursuits and correspondent inclinations.
"Age is most pleased, when in sweet converse join'd
These alliances, (so I call this conjunction of minds and interests,) are formed to resist our common infirmities, to procure reciprocal attentions. And so insinuating, so sensible has been this weakness, and the fears connected with it so forcible and strong, that men, not content with the assistance of frail beings, like themselves, advanced a step higher to ask support. Hence, among Jews and Gentiles, the idea of guardian angels; hence the custom among Catholics, of holding intercourse with departed spirits, of obtaining the regards of martyrs, and of appropriating to themselves their merits; these still retaining, as was supposed, the sympathies of humanity, though beyond its infirmities, were conceived capable of rendering important services to man.
"Once like ourselves they trembled, wept, and pray'd."1
Hence the custom of meeting around their sepulchres, and even the relic of a saint was a shelter from the storm.
This was the superstition of dark ages. Benevolence, so far as human can operate, (and of divine I am not speaking) is the hope and guide of more enlightened periods. The theory of this amiable quality may, perhaps, lead to the practice.
Benevolence Is Independent in its character.—It being intended to consider this disposition as it resides in the human breast, it is scarcely necessary to observe, that the term independent cannot here be understood in the sense applied to a Supreme Being, a first Cause; described in the schools as a necessary, self-existent, independent Being: nor can it express any superiority of mind, or separation of interests, authorising a being to say, I can stand alone—bound by no ties; exposed to no wants; affected by no calamities. Nor must it be interpreted, so as to exclude certain preferences in our regards and attentions, connected with the closer ties of life; preferences that, to a certain extent, and under certain limitations, may be strictly just, and are often
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unavoidable, indispensable, and even absolutely necessary. There are, through the universe, certain laws, resulting from the nature of things, and their relation to each other, laws that bind the animal, as well as the intellectual world, nay even the material: so that a separation or total seclusion from all relationship, or preferences of settling in I know not what kind of independence, of all law, does not, cannot exist. The independence of a good man consists in a superiority to every influence, but of moral persuasion ; to every force, but of rational conviction. It proceeds from a sense of dignity, and personal rectitude: it is that decent pride, which characterises generous minds; that high sense of honor, which will not suffer them to yield to profligacy, nor stoop to meanness: it is a kind of majesty, essential to virtue; or, more properly speaking, it is the grace of ingenuousness, the freedom of innocence.1
This virtuous independence crowns the happiness of private life; and happy are the governments, that give it public security! In steady and pure governments this becomes a principal consideration of national regard. Their aim is to produce public happiness, not to aggrandise or enrich individuals; to procure moral freedom through the medium of political justice. Offices are appropriated to talents; and, if virtues are not distinguished by honors, they are not, at least, exposed to penalties. The cultivator of the land enjoys the fruits without oppression; the legislator and the magistrate are indemnified, if not rewarded. No one is tempted to exchange his principles for a livelihood; and each considers himself as an individual of a family, in which no one is a slave.
For governments, as well as individuals, are imperfect, some in a greater, others in a less degree. In many an original sin lurking and fretting, and, at length, breaking out in every department weakens and exhausts the whole political system. They are pervaded by one powerful spirit of tyranny; and men, through habits of tyranny, have scarcely a term to express freedom or honor. In others, where despotism is not so conspicuous, corruption may supply its place. In a system, where, besides the regular salaries of office, sinecures and douceurs solicit our acceptance, corruption is inseparable. A sinecure is, sometimes, an unequivocal and direct bargain; and at others, where no bargain is openly made, it is secretly implied. You are the property of your patron: not, indeed, his beast, but his dependent; his political sh^ve: and whether your reward be money or honor, yet standing not in necessary connexion with talents or virtues, it becomes the price of your principles and of your influence: to
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Apud Johannis Stobai Florileg.
give directions would be unnecessary and tedious: you must understand hints; study the language of becks and nods; be prepared to interpret half-sentences; utter such a word, though you comprehend not its meaning; perform such an action, though convinced of its baseness. You must be willing to comply with the private wishes and political views of statesmen; with the changeableness of the times you must change.—Of your sentiments you must be so prudent and circumspect a disposer, as not to appear too liberal; and you must so cut your expressions, as it were by a measure, that your language may be the shibboleth of a party.—You must not be the master of your own friendships; nor the director of what is dearest of all things to a good heart, your affections; all that is truly great, lovely and noble, you sacrifice on the altar of your ambition or avarice; and all that remains of what you call benevolence may be a bastard charity, the offspring of prudence begotten on selfishness. An honest man, perhaps, would denominate such douceurs, bribes; and though, possibly, he would not call the receiver a villain, he would scarcely consider him a good man.
The douceurs of government are not the only obstructions to independence. Considerations arising from rank, learning, religion, political sentiment, and country, have their separate weight in different minds. But the man, who, before he performs a beneficent action, or exercises the tender affections, must be first satisfied on these points,—Are you a nobleman, oracommoner; a poor or a rich man; a philosopher or a peasant; a Christian or an infidel; a black or a white man?—one, who must thus, as it were, run over the whole catechism of man, cannot be independent, in the sense in which the philanthropist is.—Homo sum,—I am a man—he stops there.
Even moral character is not, absolutely, to determine the operations of benevolence. There are some whose rule it is never to forgive a flagrant deviation from virtue. Men guilty of a single crime, however penitent, are to be abandoned to infamy! Women, more particularly, guilty of a single indiscretion, are never to be received into society! Cruel and unjust determination! An attention to human life will teach us, that true virtue is always accompanied with mercy; that men of the brightest talents, and of the most blameless characters, are generally distmguished for the greatest liberality, and susceptible of the softest passions. The most consummate general of antiquity possessed the mildest virtues. Persons of doubtful characters, half converts to the right, men who are a kind of mules in morals, neither engendering virtue, nor producing it, are commonly unfeeling, unrelenting, unforgiving: "Self-righteous Pharisees, who, forgetting they are men of like