Изображения страниц

« feeling and generosity únaccountably forsake « him. Scarcely ever has he been known to « relieve the distresses he is so willing to pity, 6 or to exercise the generosity he is so ready w to applaud. The tenants on his estate are « squeezed for rents higher than their farms “ can afford ; his debtors are harassed for pay« ments, in circumstances which might often

plead for mitigation or delay. Nay, I know o some of his pretty near relations, for relief of 66 whose necessities I have applied with succefs 6 to others, after having in vain solicited Wood« fort's assistance to relieve them.”

I confess I did not thank my friend for thus undeceiving me, and felt something painful in being obliged to retract an opinion which it had afforded me so much pleasure to form. But afterwards, when I had time to recover from this little shock to my feelings, which my friend's information had given, I began, like him, to speculate on this seeming contrariety of charac, ter; and though that of Woodfort may perhaps appear singular, I am afraid that, in a certain degree, there are not wanting many instances of a similar kind ; and that if we look around us with observation, we shall frequently discover men who appear to feel, nay, who really feel much tenderness at the tale of woe, and much applause at the recitals of generosity,


E 2

who yet, in real conduct and in active life, fel: dom discover either much generosity or much sensibility.

To account in some measure for this appearance, it may be observed, that when a representation is given of fictitious distress, it is done in such a manner, and with such circumstances. accompanying it, as have the most powerful tendency to affect the heart. In a tragedy, where the object is to move, or in a novel, where the author means to produce the sensation of pity, every circumstance which can produce that effect is collected, and every thing which can diminish it is carefully removed. Thus 'a representation is given of characters and situations, which, though not unnatural, feldom exist; the detached parts may frequently be seen ; but' all the incidents united together, attended with those circumstances in which they are held out, and accompanied with none of a different or difcordant fort, are seldom beheld in real life. The mind, therefore, may be affected with a fictitious story, or a tale of woe, when it will not be affected with a real event occurring in common life ; because that real event cannot be perceived in all those strong colours, and mingled with all those attracting circumstances, with which a romantic story may be wrought up. Some circumstances may occur which will


diminish our interest in the persons who really suffer, while there may be others wanting which would increase our sympathy with their fituátion. Thus Woodfort may be exceedingly moved by a well-written novel, founded on the oppression of the rich and powerful over the poor and humble ; yet, in the case of his own tenants, he may not be affected with their hardships. He may perfuade himself, it was their own indolence which produced their distress ; he may quote instances of landlords who had bettered the condition of their tenants by railing their rents; and set up ideas of public improvement against the feclings of private compaffion.

It may be observed further, that when a fictitious story of distress is told, or when a mélancholy event happens, which has no connection with ourselves, there is no interfering interest or inclination of our own to diminish our pity or our sensibility. The mind is led to give the sensations that are excited their full sway, and to indulge in them to their utmost extent. Observers upon human nature have frequently remarked, that the contemplation of objects of distress gives a melancholy pleasure to the mindo Persons of sensibility are well acquainted with this pleasure ; and when a story of distress is fet before them, they feel much enjoyment from


E 3

indulging in it. The mind in this situation dwells and feeds upon its object, and every tender emotion is called forth. But when a real event happens in life, with which we ourselves may be in some respect connected, instead of dwelling upon it, or nourishing the feeling of distress which it produces, we may endeavour to avoid it, and to shut it out from our thoughts, because its indulgence may interfere with some other favourite feeling or inclina. tion. Woodfort, though affected with the representation of distress, produced by poverty or want in those with whom he had no conpection, was not affected with that of his own relations, probably because it hurt his mind to think that he had relations who were poor; and he therefore thrust the subject from his thoughts, as people fhun those scenes in which they once delighted, if they recall misfortune or record disgrace.

It must also be remarked, that the indulgence in that sensibility which arises from the contemplation of objects of distress, is apt to produce and to flatter a conscious vanity in the mind of the person who gives way to such indulgence. This vanity turns and rests upon itself, and without leading to action, it fosters a felfish and contracted approbation of our own feelings, which is catched hold of, and serves as a kind of sub


stitute in place of the consciousness of real goodness. · It ought likewise to be attended to, that the sensations which arise from the indulgence in representations or tales of distress with which we ourselves are unconnected, require no fort of exertion; the mind reposes quietly upon the contemplation of the object, without being called forth to action; but when the distress of others occurs in real life, if we are to relieve it, fome exertion is necessary, and some action of our own must be performed. Now, a man -may take pleasure in the passive feelings of sensibility (if that .expression may be used), when he will avoid every thing which requires active exertion. Hence the mind may be open to the feelings of compassion and tenderness, may take delight in indulging them, and by that means acquire great acuteness of sensibility, when it may harden and shut itself against every object, where the giving way to the feelings which such object produces requires real activity and exertion.

To this it may be proper to add, that the very indulgence in the passive feelings of sensibility has a tendency to produce indolence, larguor, and feebleness, and to unfit the mind for any thing which requires active and firm exertion. While the mind contemplates distress, it

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »