Page images

slightest to the most grofs, from the most rifible to the most serious, a scale may be formed afcending by degrees almost imperceptible. Hence it is, that in viewing some unbecoming actions, too risible for anger and too serious for derifion, the fpectator feels a fort of mixt emotion partaking both of deri→ fion and of anger. This accounts for an expreffion, common with respect to the impropriety of fome actions, That we know not whether to laugh or be angry.

It cannot fail to be observed, that in the case of a rifible impropriety, which is always flight, the contempt we have for the offender is extremely faint, though derifion, its gratification, is extremely pleasant. This difproportion betwixt a paffion and its gratification, feems not conformable to the analogy of nature. In looking about for a fo→ lution, I reflect upon what is laid down above, that an improper action, not only moves our contempt for the author, but alfo, by means of contraft, fwells the good opinion we have of ourfelves. This contributes, more than any other article, to the pleasure we feel in ridiculing the follies and abfurdities




[ocr errors]

abfurdities of others. And accordingly, it is well known, that they who put the greateft value upon themselves, are the most prone to laugh at others. Pride is a vivid paffion, as all are which have self for their object. It is extremely pleasant in itself, and not lefs fo in its gratification. This paffion fingly would be fufficient to account for the pleafure of ridicule, without borrowing any aid from contempt. Hence appears the

reafon of a noted obfervation, That we are the most disposed to ridicule the blunders and abfurdities of others, when we are in high spirits; for in high spirits, self-conceit displays itself with more than ordinary vi→ gor.

Having with wary fteps traced an intri cate road, not without danger of wandering; what remains to complete our journey, is to account for the final caufe of congruity and propriety, which make fo great a figure in the human constitution. One final caufe, regarding congruity, is pretty obvious. The fenfe of congruity, as one of the principles of the fine arts, contributes in a remarkable degree to our entertainment.

This is the final caufe affigned above for our fenfe of proportion *, and need not be enlarged upon here. Congruity indeed with refpect to quantity, coincides with proportion. When the parts of a building are nicely adjusted to each other, it may be faid indifferently, that it is agreeable by the congruity of its parts, or by the proportion of its parts. But propriety, which regards voluntary agents only, can never in any inftance be the fame with proportion. A very long nofe is difproportioned, but cannot be termed improper. In fome inftances, it is true, impropriety coincides with disproportion in the fame fubject, but never in the fame refpect. I give for an example a very little man buckled to a long toledo. Confidering the man and the fword with refpect to fize, we perceive a disproportion. Confidering the fword as the choice of the man, we perceive an impropriety,

[ocr errors]

The fenfe of impropriety with refpect to mistakes, blunders, and abfurdities, is happily contrived for the good of mankind,

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

In the fpectators it is productive of mirth and laughter, excellent recreation in an interval from business. The benefit is ftill more extenfive. It is not agreeable to be the subject of ridicule; and to punish with ridicule the man who is guilty of an abfurdity, tends to put him more upon his guard in time coming. Thus even the most innocent blunder is not committed with impunity; because, were errors licensed where they do no hurt, inattention would grow into a habit, and be the occafion of much hurt.

[ocr errors]

The final cause of propriety as to moral duties, is of all the most illuftrious. To have a just notion of it, the two sorts of moral duties must be kept in view, viz. those that refpect others, and those that refpect ourselves. Fidelity, gratitude, and the forbearing injury, are examples of the firft fort; temperance, modefty, firmness of mind, are examples of the other. The former are made duties by means of the moral fenfe; the latter, by means of the sense of propriety. Here is a final caufe of the fenfe of propriety, that must rouse our attention.

It is undoubtedly the intereft of every man, to regulate his behaviour suitably to the dignity of his nature, and to the station allot ted him by Providence. Such rational conduct contributes in every respect to happi nefs: it contributes to health and plenty : it gains the esteem of others: and, which is of all the greatest bleffing, it gains a justly-founded self-esteem. But in a matter fo effential to our well-being, even felf-interest is not relied on. The sense of propriety fuperadds the powerful authority of duty to the motive of intereft. The God of nature, in all things effential to our happiness, hath observed one uniform method. To keep us steady in our conduct, he hath fortified us with natural principles and feelings. These prevent many aberrations, which would daily happen were we totally furrendered to fo fallible a guide as is human reafon. The sense of propriety cannot justly be confidered in another light, than as the natural law that regulates our conduct with refpect to ourselves; as the fenfe of justice is the natural law that regulates our condu& with respect to others. I call the sense of propriety

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »