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It is a reigning maxim, through all the works of Epictetus, that every body may be happy if they please; and the desire of being happy, is but in other words the definition of such a virtuous and reasonable self-love, as was originally implanted in us by the Author of our nature, for innumerable wise and gracious purposes. No part of our constitution was given us without important reason, and therefore it were folly to suppose this of so essential a one as self-love; but how often it errs in its aim and in its degree, there needs no instance to prove; nor that when it does ' so, it is of all other principles the most mischievous, as it is ever the most active.
Violent declamations, either for or against any thing of the great frame of nature, serve but to show an injudicious eloquence, which, by proving too much, in effect proves absolutely nothing : even passion may be improved into merit; and virtues themselves may deviate into blameable errors. Un. biassed reason, if such a thing there be in this mixed state of human nature, surveys both sides at ouce, and teaches us to moderate our opinions, to draw the proper advantages from every circumstance, and carefully to guard against all its dangers.
The same principle of self-love, that adds new fire and strength to every passion when the loose rein is given up to fancy, at other times checks our indulgence of those passions and pursuits, by making us reflect on the danger and pain that attends them: the same tie that so closely binds us down to our own interest, makes us sympathize in the fortunes of our fellow-creatures. By self-love we learn to pity in others what we dread or fear for ourselves : in this balance we weigh their dis. tresses with our own; and what self-love has shown us, under the name of such, to ourselves, we shall always suppose the same to every one else, and kindly commiserate the sorrows we have felt. .
Self-love endears virtue to us, by the tenderness it gives us for whatever degree of it we perceive in ourselves; and, in the same way, makes us look with a peculiar charity on those whose faults are of the same kind with ours. Every body has, I believe, a favourite virtue, and a favoured weakness, which, being first' used to in themselves, they are sure to give quarter and applause to in every one else. By this partiality 'particular friendships are generally determined.
There is a lower degree of it, which would be quite ridiculous, if that too had not its valuable use in connecting human kind together. As we grow any way acquainted with people, though sometimes it is only by character, sometimes even by some circumstance of no more signification than haring sat at the same table, received or paid some trifling mark of civility; nay, even having it to say that we have seen them—we assume a kind of property in them. Such is the importance which the least connexion with our dear selves can give to whatever we please, that if we have seen people but one single time, it makes often a wide difference in our way of attending to what is said about them. Recollect but any conversation you have been in, where persons, though of very little consequence, have been talked of, and I dare say you may remember that two or three of the company immediately fell to recollecting such idle circumstances in their knowledge of them, as could receive no value but from that knowledge itself.
This disposition, I think, shows how much we were intended to mix in life; and it must be a strong reason that will draw the same advantages for practice, from the enlarged views given by reading and speculation, which even the commonest understandings are fitted to receive from their natural constitution : if these are neglected, we fall into a thousand faults, of which every one carries its own punishment along with it. People who confine themselves strictly to a small circle of acquaintance are in great danger of contracting a narrowness of mind; while those who enter freely iuto society, gain by it such an ease and openness of temper, as makes them look upon every interest and pleasure to be, in some degree, their owu.
The great, who live immured, as it were, within the enclosures of their vast possessions, look upon those of a lower rauk as inhabitants of a distant world from themselves : if ever they have any thing to do with them, it is matter of constraint and uneasiness, and, therefore, can never be done with a good grace. Their sentiments and amusements are something delicate aud mysterious, that the vulgar are not supposed capable of apprehending; but are to be kept at an awful distance, which, if ever they leave, it is insufferable intrusion.
All distinct sets of people are apt to consider themselves as separate from the rest of mankind: hence the perpetual enmities and prejudices of dif. ferent professions; hence the continual opposition of parties, sects, and ages; hence the general censures thrown at random on all. When once what we have censured and laughed at comes to be our own case, we learn to make those reasonable allowances that before we never so much as thought of.
A beauty, that has been severely used by the small-pox, learns to esteem people for somethivg more than the person : a misrepresented character can allow a great deal for the uncharitableness of people's opinions, and think mildly of a blemished one : the age which, at fifteen, seemed almost