Joseph Bickersteth Mayor John Grote.

A treatise on the moral ideals online

. (page 28 of 46)
Online LibraryJoseph Bickersteth Mayor John GroteA treatise on the moral ideals → online text (page 28 of 46)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and feeling kindly, would be greater ?

We cannot then say with justice to any one, The habit
straightforwardly. Cultivate the benevolent and sub- ^incTcaa^
due the malevolent feelings, for that is the way to ^^i^
enjoy in yourself mental pleasure. If he should say ^^t ^^
to us, * I know that with me the indulging in the to obtain
feelings which you call malevolent, if there is^^^^f
occasion for them, i.e. if circumstances arouse them
and seem to me to justify them, will be a pleasure,'
we have nothing to answer. But we may say,
Cultivate the benevolent and subdue the male-
volent feelings, for that is the right thing for you
to do and, being right, it is what will give you
pleasure : and saying this, we are on surer groimd.
This does not mean that the doing the thing ds

Digitized by VjOOQIC


right' \3 the only source of the pleasure, benevolence
being supposed not more such a source than malevo-
lence : benevolence is such a source of pleasure,
while malevolence is not ; and it is so, becaiise it is
the right thing for us to do, quite independently of
whether we think of it as right or not : but benevo-
lence is not genuine benevolence if it is done with an
arrikre pensee or ulterior view of causing happiness
to ourselves. And thus, if one should say to us, ' I
feel no preference, as between benevolence and male-
volence, for the one over the other, but will do
whichever of the two will cause me most pleasure :
tell me which it shall be,' we can hardly perhaps be
certain that, in this view, benevolence is what will
cause most pleasure : in fact, an action so done would
not really be benevolence. We should have to say
to him. Certainly benevolence is what you sl^ould
choose, but do choose it, if you can, because it is
benevolence, or else becaiise it is right; either i.e.
because it will give so much pleasure and do so much
good to others (forgetting yourself), or because it is
the course of action belonging to you, intended for
you, dictated by your nature, expected from you by
other intelligent beings (all which are forms or cir-
cumstances of the idea of rightness) : and that it will
be for your happiness you may conclude. No doubt
we might say to him also (and it would probably be
the best thing we could). Enter upon a course of
benevolence any how, with whatever motive, and it
will soon commend itself to you for itself, and chase
away the ai^bre peiisee or selfishness with which you
first entered upon it.
Phaan- This latter, with many moralists, is the entire

obT'^ow* course of morality, which consists in their view in the
out of transmutation of selfishness (by society and education)
by virtue into bencvolcnce, the birth from selfish feeling and

Digitized by VjOOQIC


selfish purpose of an unexpected progeny, philan- of some
thropy or virtue. That this process is a fact, there toanmnut-
is no doubt ; but it is an involved and continuous ^5J*"^'
fact, a part only of what belongs to morality, in no
respect the explanation or the sum of it. We may
allow human goodness to be transmuted selfishness,
it* we take account of a transmuting principle : but
selfishness has in itself no such self-transmuting
or self-elevatiag power, no germ of such a noble
growth. The settiag before ourselves our own
happiness is not only (as we have seen) a mistake in
fact, on account of its not being reaUzable by us suf-
ficiently to allow of being so exhibited ; but besides
this, so far as it exists, it vitiates the character of
the conduct done for the purpose of it, and prevents
it fi:om being what it professes to be. It imparts a
character of sordidness to the desire of doing right,
and of non-benevolence to benevolence. How shall
the stream rise above its source ? Morally indeed,
as we have seen, it often does- so rise, but by a
power not belonging to it : and it is the power which
does raise it which is the principle of morality, not
the selfishness so transmuted. It is a part of the
fact that all things belong to all and are fitted to
each other ; or, if we speak in religious language, it is
a merciful provision of the Author of our nature,
that benevolence is in this way often developed
from selfishness. When moralists use this fact to
prove from it that selfishness is a sort of moral prin-
ciple, they are themselves forgetting, and teaching
others to forget, that it is only as selfishness
vanishes that morality supervenes ; and that, the
selfishness not vanishing, the dispositions built upon
it remain in their first state of non-genuineness.
The world they picture is a world with no free
impulse and no absorbing purpose, but all, feeling

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and action alike, overmastered by self-interest : the
world of satirists, not of life.
Maievo- The bad passions are often more absorbing, and

16X100 18 ft ^

perverted in this Way may conceivably be vehicles of more
justicf ^' intense pleasure (if pleasure it is to be called) than
^^^^®the good. They are proofs that, as goodness in
bid plea- human nature (in the manner which we have just
seen) is not merely modified self-interestedness, so
neither is badness; self-interestedness being, as
against this, a good principle, and tempering it, as
it vitiates goodness. Badness is, not mistaken, but
perverted goodness: so far as we can see, hatred
never exists without some reason (mistaken or other-
wise) for it ; but it may overrun and leave behind
its first reason or occasion, and become a feeling as
unmixed, on the side of malevolence, as there may
exist unmixed feeling on the good side. No doubt
feeling of this kind is to be considered morally
morbid. Not unfrequently it comes near what we
should consider insanity^. But the fact that bad-

^ The consideration of wrong feeling as a moral disease is one which
more especially belongs to religion, as it is religion which provides the
remedy for it Bat observing it as a simple matter of fact, we shall
find many striking resemblances between different forms of bad feeling
and actual mental diseajse. Such are the absorbing and almost irresis-
tible force of several malignant passions, which may be described as a
real madness, and that not by any means of only a short duration : still
more the very marked resemblance between the obscure smouldering
feelings which are the root of pure malignancy, such as jealousy and
envy, on the one side, and on the other that diseased consciousness
which leads the insane to think everyone is looking at them, and to
suspect everyone of hostility towards them : similarly the manner in
which self-interested dread of the future tends, with the weakening of
the mind, to become actual disease, inducing sometimes, in advancing
years, a dread of poverty even in the richest : these with many other
like considerations tend to show the near alliance between moral bad-
ness and mental disease. No doubt something of the same kind may
be observed in some forms of mistaken goodness : feelings akin to con-
scientiousness are capable of a morbid excitement; but on the whole
the *mens sana' is goodness. There are various feelings which might
be roused in us by the thought of this resemblance of vidousness to

Digitized by VjOOQIC


ness is perhaps a fearful disease of moral intelligence,
does not alter the fact of its reality. It may, if we
talk of demerit and responsibility in such extreme
cases, alter our opinion as to that : but stiU badness
is not miscalculating, it is misbeing. And the
pleasure which it gives will be perverted accord-
ingly. Springing from diseased feeling it will itself
be wild and inconsistent, in ways which no sober
analysis can follow. " Evil, be thou my good." The
reason probably why attempts like that of Milton's
to exhibit perfect badness have usually failed, is that
there has been generally an attempt to show with
the badness too much of consistency, reason, wisdom.
These however belong to goodness only.

Happiness has been described as consisting, the Maxim
main part of it, in the pleasures which are simpler happinesa
and nearer at hand to all, rather than in those which ^^^^**
are more recondite and greater. eimpier


This statement is partly open to the objection Most Uvea
which was spoken of before as to the impossibility S^eir hap-
of comparing pleasures together. Whether a man l^^ ^
who has had one great pleasure in life but a great pleasures,
many small troubles is to be considered to have had a
happier life than a man who has had few troubles
but no great pleasure, is a question as indetermin-
able as that raised by Solon and Aristotle, whether
a man can be called happy before he is dead.
Still, as great pleasures must of course be excep-

insanity. We must of course take care that the association of the two
does not lead us to judge harshly of the latter, but rather to pity the
former. At the same time our pity must not degenerate into indul-
gence or excuse, as though moral responsibility were done away wiUi.
The absence of self-mastery which shows itself in the early stages of
vicious passion must be met by every existing means of influence and
deterrenee, and all the more from our knowledge of the impending
danger both to society and to the individual himself of entire subju-
gation and possession.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


tioual, a happy life must on the whole be made up
of small and sunple pleasures. And there is a further
and more important truth in the statement, one
however which opens a rather difficult question.
Ambiguity The word 'simple' is very vague, and the putting
maxim, happiness in simple pleasures may either mean a
lively appreciation of the coarser common pleasures,
as of eating and drinking, or a sensitive and imagi-
native openness of the mind to such pleasure as may
be drawn at each moment from the circumstances
The enjoy- I do not know that it is much worth while to
^i^on consider about the former of these. These coarser
fsToTln- pl^^^i^^s are eminently natiiral, and insensibility to
creased by them, except ou accouut of the mind being occupied

luxury. , 1 • 1 • 'I

by something better, is no more a merit than,
except for the same reason, contentment or undesir-
ingness is. But, for the very reason that they are
thus natural, the pleasingness of them is probably
very little increased by any attempts at refining and
artificializing them. It is not really possible to
compare experiences of pleasure ; but it is probable,
I think, that luxury in the pleasures of the table
makes no addition to the actual amount of pleasure
enjoyed, but merely dresses this up in a manner
supposed to be accordant with wealth, civilization,
and refinement. If we say then that happiness is in
the simpler pleasures, meaning by the simpler the
coarser, there is this truth in it, that for the rich,
man to enjoy his dinner, he must be able to enjoy
it as the poor man does his, and that the poor man
has in his simple dinner all the important part of
the pleasures which the rich has in his luxurious
one, if he is wise enough rather to enjoy that, than
to envy the other.
Luxury Luxury is a word of vague meaning in English ,

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and sometimes means mere self-indulgence. In its naturaUy
ordinary meaning however, in which it unites to-wh^©^^
gether the two notions of mere enjoyment and of J^^*^
superfluity, it seems to me that it is in the main^^*^^^*
something which comes upon a state of high civiliza- ment.
tion of itself, as it were, and more from human help-
lessness than of human intention.. Advanced econo-
mical civilization should go on to what I will call
refinement : the superfluity of production £|iid enjoy-
ment, which there is upon the whole, should flower
into the higher pleasures of literatxire and art, of
taste and beauty, not merely as something to be
admired and talked about, but as something entering
into the thoughts and lives of men. .

Luxury, as I imderstand it, seems to me some-
thing which comes in the defeult of these. Nobody
particularly wants it or cares much for it : but
for the refinement of which I have spoken there
are needed much efibrt and power of mind, which
do not exist, and in the mean time money has to be
spent, labour to be employed, enjoyment to be had :
and so fashion fixes itself upon fine furniture, magni-
ficent dresses, rich tables: these become necessities
of a certain rank : they are the same kind of thing
as badges or uniforms : there is no reason they should
not exist, except that there might be something
better : failing that, they are in a manner right : the
wrong of them is, that a good deal of them repre-
sents labour which produces no enjoyment (for no-
body looks at the fine chairs or tables, though they
would look if they were not there) ; but then the
question is, what laboxir, at that economical stage,
would produce enjoyment : on that I will not enter,

The literature of luxury is rather considerable, Unreality
and how little reality of pleasure (I mean of addi- tSio^uT'

Digitized by VjOOQIC


theutera- tional pleasure for the luxury) there is underlying
luxury, the luxury, may be judged in some measure from
the observation, in how small a degree the luxury
of one time suits another. About luxury, it is very
hard to get hold in any way of the real feeling, on
account of the affectation and falsehood of thought
which constantly appear on both sides in the treatment
of it. The literature of luxury, say of gourmandise,
descants upon enjoyments which, it is evident from
a moment's consideration, cannot be real, but must
be talk alone : it is quite evident that, while what
is wanted for enjoyment is the increase of sensitive-
ness (appetite, but not in too strong a degree, being
supposed), the senseless adding together and crowd-
ing stimulant on stimulant must entirely destroy
any real sensitiveness ; and yet, under these circum-
stances, the most delicate discrimination is talked
of — ^talked of, that is, in one age to be laughed
at in another, as the dinner of Nasidienus would
be no luxury to us, and the endlessly varying tastes
of different fish in Athenaeus we should not care for.
This affectation on the side of luxury is met generally
in literature by a corresponding affectation on the
other side. There is an essential \inreality in both the
tones which appear commonly in literature in an-
tagonism with it, which I may call the idyllic and
the satirical, in spite of the charm attaching to
the former : and people feeling this unreality on
the other side are- disposed to attribute more reality
than they should to the pleasure of luxury. There
is a feeble, self-apologetic, tone in the idyUism and a
condemnatory tone in the satire, neither of which
are warranted. But it is a pity, while the regions
of art and possible civilization are imvisited and un-
explored to the extent to which they still are, that
refinement and thought should be appropriated to

Digitized by VjOOQIC


subjects unworthy of them, and in which they can
only appear under circumstances of what I have
called falsehood and aflfectation: luxury in itself may
be considered simply an incident of high civilization,
but we cannot but grieve when it takes possession
of literature.

It is an element then, generally, of happiness,
because it is a natural part of life, to preserve a
simple, I will not say coarse, but unluxurious dis-
position : and this is one point which makes the
happiness of the rich and the poor in substance the

K however by simple pleasures we mean plea- is increajse
sures derived from sources at all times at every sensibmty
body's command, it is evident that what is here^p^®^'
wanted is the mind ai^d the sensibility. And here ^^^®'
the question arises. Is it best that our sensitiveness
to enjoyment in general should be keen, or not so ?
Because of course sensitiveness to pleasure is sen-
sitiveness to pain : refining our nature in any way
adds pains to our life, as well as pleasurea

There is no more practical question than this,
both as to our own lives, as to education, and as to
our estimate of the different conditions of men. We
may be sometimes inclined to think that there is
no reason why o\ir whole life, with the exception
of that, unhappUy perhaps, large portion of it which
is a season of actual pain, should not be pleasurable ;
for, saving quite exceptional positions, there is always
something which may set in action our imagination
or our affections. But then, can we have the imagi-
nation and the affections thus alive, without intro-
ducing into Ufe as much pain as pleasure, or more ?
Could we have the labourer alive to the beauty of
the sunshine and the scene in which he works, and
have him at the same time contented with his

Digitized by VjOOQIC


wretched cottage, and willing, if necessary, to work
in a coal-pit? To put the thing coarsely, can we
do without coarseness? Is a life of imaginative
sensitiveness or a life with a good deal of roughish
insensibility, not to say the more usefid — which we
are not speaking of now, — but the happier ?
It is good For happiness, it seems to me that, beyond that
^^gfhe substance of it which concerns life as action, it is
wJ^Mid' ^^ great importance to multiply susceptibilities of
J?"i«^to pleasure, and that, in spite of the corresponding
tions is increase of susceptibility to pain : a man has so ■
raf supple- much moro of life as well as of pleasure,
wt^l Ufe. I*' ^^ ^^ ^^ *^^* cultivated sensibilities and the
pleasiu-e arising from them belong to leisure : but
in this sense, there is a vast amount of leisure with
almost all men and in all classes ; that is, there is a
very large amount of mere inanity and vacancy. The
conscious, uninvolved, happiness of life very much
depends upon the fillings up of it. It is here that
comes in the obnoxious t)8oi^, voluptuousness, the
indulgence of the coarser and lower sensibilities : the
higher sensibilities, as of art and literature, are
what, it would appear, should work against them,
and they much need to do so in all classes. They
are also most naturally associated with that other
natural filling up of life, the indulgence of the af-

The recommendation of simple pleasures for hap-
piness, if by this is understood the cultivation of
the sensibilities, is in fact recommending cultivation
of mind, and quiet pleasures connected with it,
as against pleasures of excitement and transport.
There is fallacy sometimes about this, and the latter
are supposed to have a more manly and active
character, while the former are despised. But in
this, there is not a true taste for pleasure. There

Digitized by VjOOQIC


is intellectual mistake or delusion ; of which, in
regard to pleasure, there is abundance.

The question which was raised before, as to the
relation of pleasure to consciousness, will come in also
in reference to these simple pleasures. Supposing
a man shut up suddenly in solitary confinement, it
is doubtful whether he will say to himself. How
happy I was when I was free, or whether he will
say, What a fool I was not to enjoy the air and
society more while I had them : and whichever he
said, the meaning would probably be in substance
the same, and he would not mean to represent his
past feeling as different in the two cases.

"0 fortnnatoB nimiam!"

''0 knew he but his happiness!'*

Can a man be happy without knowing himself i>iffi<n»ity
so ? Does his knowing himself so and meditating on nouc^ing
his happiness, increase his happiness? Or does it^^^^r
spoil it ? These are questions which cannot be an- ^®

■*• * , 'whether

swered, because, as I have said, we cannot, except Buoh piea-

• j»i • ij 111* sures are

m comparatively ummportant cases, look happmess enjoyed.
or pleasure in the face.

But though we cannot, in regard of any person. Freshness
tell whether he really derives pleasure from the is an nn-
sources which are open to all, except to those iueiSnent
pain ; because, for all that we know, he may, though ^Jf ^^*'
he gives no sign of it or perhaps, by grumbling,
gives sign of the contrary : yet it is important for
ourselves to be aware, that in regard of the current
pleasure of life, it is here that it is to be got. It
has always been a famous rule of morals 'Live this
day as if thy last.' It has been given also as a rule
of happiness^ : in which character it is perhaps more
questionable. The feeling of the last day in any

* Hor. Epiit L 4. 13.
G. 21

Digitized by VjOOQIC


place we are attached to has peculiar elements of
sensitiveness, attention, consciousness, tenderness,
but is hardly on the whole one of happiness. The
real point of happiness is in the * Grata superveniet
quae non sperabitur hora.* The having looked upon
yesterday as a last day makes to-day to be looked
upon as a first one^-as a new beginning of existence.
If we really did look upon life each day with fresh
eyes, no doubt the sensitiveness, and therefore the
pleasure in the look, would be increased tenfold.
This would be the real foimtain of youth, supposing,
of course, there were energy to maintain the perpetual
aliveness. As it is, the ordinary sources of enjoy-
ment which I have spoken of only mark themselves
as sources of enjoyment when circumstances give
them novelty and distinct relief. And it is hence
that arises the universal fallacy in our judging of
the condition of others. We only perceive dis-
tinctions. We are fatigued with something which,
whether we like it or not, we at least think
we have too much of, and whatever we make our
escape to, whatever is different from this, seems^ as
if it must be all happiness. Hence townsmen's
praises of the country and countrymen's of the
town. Hence too it is impossible for us to form
a single idea of life in the point of view of hap-
pines3. Man, as he is known to us^ if he were not
sometimes unhappy, could never be happy in the
sense of testing happiness. Supposing, the best we
can suppose, life to be a sort of alternation of plea-
sures setting off each other, as lively pursuit followed
by rest or gratification, and so forth ; there must be
a character of pain in the pursuit to give the neces-
sary alternation to the gratification : this is part of
the universal mixture of pleasure and pain, which I
have spoken of.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


However, for ourselves, what is needed is to be The chief
aware that there are always sources of pleasure at pi^^e^
hand, in the main the same for the rich as the poor : ^^^^^
and in this consists such truth as there is in the
statement which is often made with a good deal of
hard-heartedness, that all conditions are alike for
happiness. I have observed before, what a ridiculous
prospect people's mutual envies must present to any
being who could read the hearts of all. The poor
man envies the rich, and no doubt with some reason,
if we could suppose envy to be right at all. He
envies him because of his rich rooms and furniture
and his luxurious dinner, whereas it is exceedingly
likely that the rich man derives less pleasure from
these than he does from a walk in the sunshine,
which the poor man might enjoy as well as he ; and
that he finds his main happiness in some reading, or
study, or pursuit, which, by the poor man would
be felt to be more irksome than his own most la-
borious toil.

One direction which has been ffiven for happiness Maxim,

that we

is that we should not raise our expectations high : should not
and similar in some measure to this is the direction SSch*of
that we should pitch the scale of our living and our ^^®-
enjoyments low ; because then any change will be
for the better.

Directions of this kind represent diflferent man-itistme
ners of thought. ' Sometimes they represent that are not so
mild view of things, recommended, but not expected ^p^^^^as
to produce much effect, to which belong also the ^^*^P*g
notions of happiness being in contentment and dis-
traction. Or else they perhaps represent what I
will for a moment call Stoico-Epicureanism, I mean
Epicureanism developing into a kind of semi-Stoical
self-discipline and moderation, which probably was

■ 21—2

Digitized by VjOOQ IC


rather the character of the early Epicureanism. The
view is partly true, partly false, and partly true
for some but not for others.

Online LibraryJoseph Bickersteth Mayor John GroteA treatise on the moral ideals → online text (page 28 of 46)