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I shall have occasion afterwards to thew,* in treating of our moral powers, that experience diminishes the influence of passive impressions on the mind, but strengthens our active principles. A course of debauchery deadens the sense of pleasure, but increases the desire of gratification. An immoderate use of strong liquors destroys the sensibility of the palate, but strengthens the habit of internperance. The en. joyments we derive from any favourite pursuit gradually decay as we advance in years : and yet we continue to prosecute our favorite pursuits with in. creasing steadiness and vigor.

On these two laws of our nature is founded our capacity of moral improvement. In proportion as we are accustomed to obey our sense of duty, the influence of the temptations to vice is diminished; while, at the same time, our habit of virtuous conduct is confirmed. How many passive impressions, for instance, must be overcome, before the virtue of beneficence can exert itself uniformly and habitually! How many circumstances are there in the distresses of others, which have a tendency to alienate our hearts from them, and which prompt us to withdraw from the fight of the miserable ! The impressions we receive from these, are unfavorable to virtue : their force, however, every day diminishes, and it may perhaps, by perseverance, be wholly destroyed. It is thus that the character of the beneficent man is formed. The passive imprefsions which he felt ori. ginally, and which counteracted his fense of duty, have lost their influence, and a habit of beneficence is become part of his nature.

It must be owned, that this reasoning may, in part, be retorted; for among those paflive impressions, which are weakened by repetition, there are some

* The following reasoning was suggested to me by a passage in Butler's Analogy, which the reader will find in Note [V] at the end of the voluine.

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which have a beneficial tendency. The uneasiness, in particular, which the fight of distress occasions, is a strong incentive to acts of humanity, and it cannot be denied that it is lefsened by experience. This might naturally lead us to expect, that the young and unpractised would be more disposed to perform beneficent actions, than those who are advanced in life, and who have been familiar with scenes of milery. And, in truth, the fact would be fo, were it not that the effect of custom on this passive impresfion is counteracted by its effect on others ; and, above all, by its influence in strengthening the active habit of beneficence. An old and experienced phy. fician is less affected by the fight of bodily pain, than a younger practitioner ; but he has acquired a more confirmed habit of assisting the sick and helpless, and would offer greater violence to his nature, if he should withhold from them any relief that he has in his power to bestow. In this case, we see a beauti. ful provision made for our moral improvement, as the effects of experience on one part of our constitution, are made to counteract its effects on another.

If the foregoing observations be well founded, it will follow, that habits of virtue are not to be formed in retirement, but by mingling in the scenes of active life, and that an habitual attention to exhibi. tions of fictitious diftress, is not merely useless to the character, but positively hurtful.

It will not, I think, be disputed, that the frequent perusal of pathetic compositions diminishes the uneafiness which they are naturally fitted to excite. A person who indulges habitually in such studies, may feel a growing desire of his usual gratification, but he is every day less and less affected by the scenes which are presented to him. I believe it would be difficult to find an actor long hackreyed on the stage, who is capable of being completely interested by the distresses of a tragedy. The effect of such composi.

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tions and representations, in rendering the mind callous to actual distress, is still greater ; for as the imagination of the Poet almost always carries him beyond truth and nature, a familiarity with the tra. gic scenes which he exhibits, can hardly fail to deaden the impression produced by the comparatively trifling sufferings which the ordinary course of hu. man affairs presents to us.

In real life, a provision is made for this gradual decay of sensibility, by the proportional decay of other passive impressions, which have an opposite tendency, and by the addi. tional force which our active habits are daily acquiring Exhibitions of fictitious distress while they produce the former change on the character, have no influence in producing the latter : on the contrary, they tend to strengthen those paffive impressions which counteract beneficence. The Icenes into which the Novelist introduces us are, in general, perfectly unlike those which occur in the world. As his object is to please, he removes from his descriptions every circumstance which is difgufting, and presents us with hiftories of elegant and dignified distress. It is not such scenes that human life exhibits. We have to act, not with refined and elevated characters, but with the mean, the illiterate, the vulgar, and the profligate. The perusal of fictitious history has a tendency to increafe that disgust which we na. turally feel at the concomitants of diftress, and to cultivate a false refinement of tafte, inconfiftent with our condition as members of society. Nay, it is possible for this refinement to be carried so far, as to withdraw a man from the duties of life, and even from the fight of those distrefles which he might alleviate. And, accordingly, many are to be found, who, if the situations of romance were realised, would not fail to display the virtues of their favorite characters, whose sense of duty is not fufficiently strong to engage them in the humble and private scenes of human misery

To these effects of fictitious history we may add, that it gives no exercise to our active habits. In real life, we proceed from the paffive impression to those exertions which it was intended to produce. In the contemplativn of imaginary sufferings, we stop short at the impressiɔn, and whatever benevolent difpofitions we may feel, we have no opportunity of carrying them into action.

From these reasonings it appears, that an habitual attention to exhibitions of fictitious distress, is in every view calculated to check our moral improvement. It diminishes that uneasiness which we feel at the fight of distress, and which prompts us to relieve it. It strengthens that disguft which the loathsome concomitants of distress excite in the mind, and which prompts us to avoid the sight of misery ; while, at the same time, it has no tendency to confirm those habits of active beneficence, without which, the best dispositions are useless. I would not, however, be understood to disapprove entirely of fictitious Tarratives, or of pathetic compositions. On the contrary, I think that the perusal of them may be attended with advantage, when the effects which I have mentioned are corrected by habits of real business. They foothe the mind when ruffled by the rude intercourse of society, and stealing the attention infenfibly from our own cares, substitute, instead of discontent and distress, a tender and pleasing melancholy. By exhibitions of characters a little elevated above the common ftandard, they have a tendency to cultivate the taste in life; to quicken our disgust at what is mean or offensive, and to form the mind insensibly to elegance and dignity. Their tendency to cultivate the powers of moral perception has never been disputed; and when the influence of such perceptions is powerfully felt, and is united with an active and manly temper, they render the character not only more amiable, but more happy in itself, and

more useful to others; for although a rectitude of judgment with respect to conduct, and strong moral feelings, do, by no means, alone constitute virtue ; yet they are frequently necessary to direct our behavior in the more critical situations of life ; and they increase the interest we take in the general prosperity of virtue in the world. I believe, likewise, that by means of fictitious history, displays of character may be most successfully given, and the various weaknesses of the heart exposed. I only meant to insinuate, that a taste for them may be carried too far ; that the sensibility which terminates in imagination, is but a refined and selfish luxury ; and that nothing can effectually advance our moral improvement, but an attention to the active duties which belong to our stations.


Continuation of the fame Subject.-Important Uses to which

the Power of Imagination is fubfervient. THE faculty of Imagination is the great spring of human activity, and the principal source of human improvement. As it delights in presenting to the mind scenes and characters more perfect than those which we are acquainted with, it prevents us from ever being completely satisfied with our present condition, or with our past attainments, and engages us continually in the pursuit of some untried enjoyment, or of foune ideal excellence. Hence the ardor of the selfish to better their fortunes, and to add to their personal accomplishments, and hence the zeal of the Patriot and the Philosopher to advance the virtue and the happiness of the human race. Destroy this faculty, and the condition of man will become as stationary as that of the brutes.

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