Abbildungen der Seite


If Morality be rightly described as the means, or the art, or science of happiness (and that different views of it are accurately defined by these expressions I have repeatedly endeavored to show, and shall assume on the present occasion) it follows, as a necessary consequence, that it must be the most comprehensive of all arts and of all sciences-that, in fact, it must include whatever comes under those denominations, and claims the attributes of that highest wisdom which consists in the appropriate application of efficient means to the most important of all ends.

. In this view, Morality may be properly said to include whatever advances us in the knowledge of the laws of material nature, of the mind, or of social man. It includes whatever principles the natural philosopher can arrive at by the classification of his accumulated facts; whatever truths the metaphysician may detect by his more recondite researches ; whatever the statesman can attain of political science, from the teachings of history, or the results of his own experience and observation; the right application of whatever mechanical machinery may be employed by the manufacturer in the production of the necessaries or the conveniences of life; and of what

ever mental machinery may be employed by the teacher in the fabrication of intelligence and of character. They all come under this one head-Morality; for they are all capable of supplying means that may be employed for the production, the multiplication, the perpetuation of human happiness.

And yet, although this science be so comprehensive, although it be so inclusive of all things else, in practice it has too commonly been neglected. Instead of embracing them all, it has been distinguished from them all, both theoretically and practically. Men have been particularly prone to dissever it from that which is most immediately connected with their own interest; the very direction in which they ought to have endeavored to preserve its union. They have inculcated morality upon others to regulate their behaviour towards themselves; but the tradesman has been disposed to tell us that the counting-house or the shop is free from the intrusion of this principle, practically so disposed at least ; legislators and rulers have held themselves the administrators of law, or the promoters of certain schemes of policy, but have told the inhabitants of the country, to regard their private morality as something very distinct from these. Nay, even our religionists, divines, have rested in ceremony, creed, and dogma; and have put these forward, with only perhaps the cold repetition of the decalogue, as that by which men's minds were to be made wise unto salvation. There is too often the power of a sinister interest over the members of different classes, which leads them to a deflection from the true standard of morality, and which disposes them to reduce its importance, and circumscribe its boundaries : nay, there is something in, the bearing of the circumstances themselves in which different sets of men are placed, that may, and must lead them unwarily, unconsciously, to different views on this great matter from those which are taken by others who are exposed to opposite influences.

It is, therefore, a most desirable work, I think, to endeavor to ascertain the nature, the direction, and the extent of these influences on the most important of the classes into which society is distributed ; to one or other of which classes the great majority of an assembly like this may be supposed to belong; or to which if they do not belong, they may yet bear such affinities as shall render it desirable for them to make this a matter of consideration : it is desirable to bring the tendencies and results of such influences into a fair and full comparison with the eternal principles of morality.

Let not this phrase be misunderstood. I say the eternal principles of morality-not its unchangeable details. The principles of morality are ever the same, because they are based in the constitution of our nature. The catalogue of duties is subject to constant change ; with the difference of opinion, with the difference of period, with the difference of age, of sex, and of various other relations. That will be obligatory on one, by the very same principle, which is not obligatory on another. New duties arise with the changes of men's civil and political relations. That may be sacredly incumbent on the modern European, which was no duty at all to the ancient Asiatic. That may be one of the most binding obligations on the Englishman of the nineteenth century, which would have no place in the list of precepts comprehending the duties of the Jew in the first century.

[ocr errors]

The conduct may be useful and moral in one portion of the globe, in consequence of some peculiarity of political institution or social relation, which in another would only be productive of mischief, and which would, therefore, belong to the category of vice, and not of virtue.

I say the unchanging principles of morality—not the uniformity of its exhibition, or of its inculcation. The mode of illustrating and enforcing moral obligation must be subject to change, as well as the details of duty, and for similar reasons. It must be connected with the prevalent modes of thought, of feeling, and of social intercourse, that prevail at any given time, or in any given country. There have been three great teachers of the utilitarian theory of morality, and they have been remarkably distinguished by the spirit in which they have taught it, as well as by other circumstances : I allude to Socrates, to Bentham, and to Jesus Christ. The first inculcated it as a rational and logical theory; the second inculcated it as a matter of practical calculation; the last based it upon that sympathy which belongs to human nature : and while the one might be a fitting teacher for the speculative minds of ancient Greeee; while the other might be an appropriate teacher for the calculators—the continual calculators of modern times, and eminently of this commercial country; the injunctions of Christ, resting on sympathy, appeal to universal humanity, and enforce upon us the pursuit of the best, the only rational and consistent doctrines of morals, in that way which gives it the firmest grasp upon the heart—the heart of all men—the universal human heart—and consequently, the greatest power over human life, and human happiness.

Capable of being traced back to such principles, connected with such a boundless diversity of results, and distinguished by such beneficence of character, as this theory is, let no one mistake the mode of inculcating and applying it, which I have been led to adopt. Let no one suppose, that in these Lectures, referring as they do to all classes—commencing with the poor, adverting then to the rich, then to the mercantile and middle classes; then taking the various occupations of arms, of the law, of the press, and ending with the clerical profession ; let no one suppose, that in these Lectures I am meditating, or shall make, an attack upon any persons, or any class. Far, indeed, from my mind is any such purpose ; and instead of being a fitting vehicle for the purpose of vituperation, I take it that these Lectures will furnish one great lesson for all—a lesson of charity. And there is no charity like an enlightened beneficence, which analyzes the causes that act upon men, and traces the different ways in which influences, from within and without, fashion our thoughts and pursuits. Thus to arrive at a knowledge of the various operations that build man up into what he is, must dispose us, far more than any other species of training that can possibly be imagined, to regard all with kindness : to extend sympathy to the utinost bounds to which sympathy can possibly be felt; and to look onward with hope and trust to the future evolution of that nature, which is already so beautiful and so worthy an object of complacency, even in the midst of its darkest aberrations.

Nor let any one say, that, not feeling himself identified with this or that particular class, these lessons have for him no moral, and are unconnected with his own particular improvement. I say again, that they must, in their

« ZurückWeiter »