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Of Dignity and Meannefs.


HESE terms are applied to man in point of character, fentiment, and behaviour. We fay, for example, of one man, that he hath a natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that he makes a mean figure. There is a dignity. in every action and fentiment of fome perfons: the actions and fentiments of others are mean and vulgar. With refpect to the fine arts, fome performances are said to be manly and suitable to the dignity of human nature others are termed low, mean, trivial. Such expreffions are


though they have not always a precise meaning. With refpect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquifition to ascertain what these terms truly import; which poffibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity. Inquiring

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Inquiring first to what subjects the terms dignity and meannefs are appropriated, we foon discover, that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate. The most magnificent palace ever built, may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to dignity. The most diminutive fhrub may be little, but it is not mean. These terms must belong to fenfitive beings, probably to man only; which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.

Of all objects, human actions produce in à fpectator the greatest variety of feelings. They are in themfelves grand or little: with respect to the author, they are proper or improper with respect to those affected by them, juft or unjust. And I must now add, that they are also distinguished by dignity and meannefs. It may poffibly be thought, that with respect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meannefs with littlenefs. But the difference will be evident upon reflecting, that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meannefs to any but what in fome degree is faulty. But an ac

tion may be grand without being virtuous, or little without being faulty. Every action of dignity creates refpect and esteem for the author; and a mean action draws upon him contempt. A man is always admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor efteemed for it: neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action.

As it appears to me, dignity and mean→ nefs are founded on a natural principle not hitherto mentioned. Man is endued with a fenfe of the worth and excellence of his nature. He deems it to be more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he feels that the perfection of his nature confists in virtue, particularly in virtue of the highest rank. To express this sense, the term dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in this manner, he attracts love and efteem. By acting meanly or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.


According to the defcription here given of dignity and meannefs, they will be found to be a species of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meannefs cannot be applied. To eat when one is hungry is proper, but there is no dignity in this action. Revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but it is not mean. But every action of dignity is also proper, and every mean action is alfo improper.

This fenfe of the dignity of human na→ ture, reaches even our pleasures and amusements. If they enlarge the mind by raising grand or elevated emotions, or if they humanize the mind by exercifing our fympathy, they are approved as fuited to our na ture: if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects, they are contemned as low and mean. Hence in general, every occupation, whether of use or amusement, that corresponds to the dignity of man, obtains the epithet of manly; and every occupation below his nature, obtains the epithet of childish.

To those who study human nature, there


is a point which has always appeared intriHow comes it that generofity and courage are more valued and bestow more dignity, than good-nature, or even justice, though the latter contribute more than the former, to private as well as to public happinefs? This question bluntly propofed, might puzzle a cunning philofopher; but by means of the foregoing obfervations will easily be folved. Human virtues, like other objects, obtain a rank in our estimation, not from their utility, which is a subject of reflection, but from the direct impreffion they make on us. Juftice and good-nature are a fort of negative virtues, that make no figure unless when they are tranfgreffed. Courage and generofity producing elevated emotions, enliven greatly the sense of a man's dignity, both in himfelf and in others; and for that reason, courage and generofity are in higher regard than the other virtues mentioned. We describe them as grand and elevated, as of greater dignity, and more praise-worthy.

This leads us to examine more directly emotions and paffions with respect to the prefent

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