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SECT. VIII.: The same subject continued. - Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society 
An Essay on the History of Civil Society, 5th ed. (London: T. Cadell, 1782).
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The same subject continued.
Whoever has compared together the different conditions and manners of men, under varieties of education or fortune, will be satisfied, that mere situation does not constitute their happiness or misery; nor a diversity of external observances imply any opposition of sentiments on the subject of morality. They express their kindness and their enmity in different actions; but kindness or enmity is still the principal article of consideration in human life. They engage in different pursuits, or acquiesce in different conditions; but act from passions nearly the same. There is no precise measure of accommodation required to suit their conveniency, nor any degree of danger or safety under which they are peculiarly fitted to act. Courage and generosity, fear and envy, are not peculiar to any station or order of men; nor is there any condition in which some of the human race have not shewn, that it is possible to employ, with propriety, the talents and virtues of their species.
What, then, is that mysterious thing called Happiness which may have place in such a variety of stations, and to which circumstances, in one age or nation thought necessary, are in another held to be destructive or of no effect? It is not the succession of mere animal pleasures, which, apart from the occupation or the company in which they engage us, can fill up but a few moments in human life. On too frequent a repetition, those pleasures turn to satiety and disgust; they tear the constitution to which they are applied in excess, and, like the lightning of night, only serve to darken the gloom through which they occasionally break. Happiness is not that state of repose, or that imaginary freedom from care, which at a distance is so frequent an object of desire, but with its approach brings a tedium, or a languor, more unsupportable than pain itself. If the preceding observations on this subject be just, it arises more from the pursuit, than from the attainment of any end whatever; and in every new situation to which we arrive, even in the course of a prosperous life, it depends more on the degree in which our minds are properly employed, than it does on the circumstances in which we are destined to act, on the materials which are placed in our hands, or the tools with which we are furnished.
If this be confessed in respect to that class of pursuits which are distinguished by the name of amusement, and which, in the case of men who are commonly deemed the most happy, occupy the greater part of human life, we may apprehend, that it holds, much more than is commonly suspected, in many cases of business, where the end to be gained, and not the occupation, is supposed to have the principal value.
The miser himself, we are told, can sometimes consider the care of his wealth as a pastime, and has challenged his heir, to have more pleasure in spending, than he in amassing his fortune. With this degree of indifference to what may be the conduct of others; with this confinement of his care to what he has chosen as his own province, more especially if he has conquered in himself the passions of jealousy and envy, which tear the covetous mind; why may not the man whose object is money, be understood to lead a life of amusement and pleasure, not only more entire than that of the spendthrift, but even as much as the virtuoso, the scholar, the man of taste, or any of that class of persons who have found out a method of passing their leisure without offence, and to whom the acquisitions made, or the works produced, in their several ways, perhaps, are as useless as the bag to the miser, or the counter to those who play from mere dissipation at any game of skill or of chance?
We are soon tired of diversions that do not approach to the nature of business; that is, that do not engage some passion, or give an exercise proportioned to our talents, and our faculties. The chace and the gaming-table have each their dangers and difficulties, to excite and employ the mind. All games of contention animate our emulation, and give a species of party-zeal. The mathematician is only to be amused with intricate problems, the lawyer and the casuist with cases that try their subtilty, and occupy their judgment.
The desire of active engagements, like every other natural appetite, may be carried to excess; and men may debauch in amusements, as well as in the use of wine, or other intoxicating liquors. At first, a trifling stake, and the occupation of a moderate passion, may have served to amuse the gamester; but when the drug becomes familiar, it fails to produce its effect: The play is made deep, and the interest increased, to awaken his attention; he is carried on by degrees, and in the end comes to seek for amusement, and to find it only in those passions of anxiety, hope, and despair, which are roused by the hazard into which he has thrown the whole of his fortunes.
If men can thus turn their amusements into a scene more serious and interesting than that of business itself, it will be difficult to assign a reason, why business, and many of the occupations of human life, independent of any distant consequences or future events, may not be chosen as an amusement, and adopted on account of the pastime they bring. This is, perhaps, the foundation on which, without the aid of reflection, the contented and the cheerful have rested the gaiety of their tempers. It is, perhaps, the most solid basis of fortitude which any reflection can lay; and happiness itself is secured by making a certain species of conduct our amusement; and, by considering life in the general estimate of its value, as well on every particular occasion, as a mere scene for the exercise of the mind, and the engagements of the heart. “I will try and attempt every thing,” says Brutus; “I will never cease to recall my country from this state of servility. If the event be favourable, it will prove matter of joy to us all; if not, yet I, notwithstanding, shall rejoice.” Why rejoice in a disappointment? Why not be dejected, when his country was overwhelmed? Because sorrow, perhaps, and dejection, can do no good. Nay, but they must be endured when they come. And whence should they come to me? might the Roman say; I have followed my mind, and can follow it still. Events may have changed the situation in which I am destined to act; but can they hinder my acting the part of a man? Shew me a situation in which a man can neither act nor die, and I will own he is wretched.
Whoever has the force of mind steadily to view human life under this aspect, has only to chuse well his occupations, in order to command that state of enjoyment, and freedom of soul, which probably constitute the peculiar felicity to which his active nature is destined.
The dispositions of men, and consequently their occupations, are commonly divided into two principal classes; the selfish, and the social. The first are indulged in solitude; and if they carry a reference to mankind, it is that of emulation, competition, and enmity. The second incline us to live with our fellow-creatures, and to do them good; they tend to unite the members of society together; they terminate in a mutual participation of their cares and enjoyments, and render the presence of men an occasion of joy. Under this class may be enumerated the passions of the sexes, the affections of parents and children, general humanity, or singular attachments; above all, that habit of the soul by which we consider ourselves as but a part of some beloved community, and as but individual members of some society, whose general welsare is to us the supreme object of zeal, and the great rule of our conduct. This affection is a principle of candour, which knows no partial distinctions, and is confined to no bounds: it may extend its effects beyond our personal acquaintance; it may, in the mind, and in thought, at least, make us feel a relation to the universe, and to the whole creation of God. “Shall any one,” says Antoninus, “love the city of Cecrops, and you not love the city of God?”
No emotion of the heart is indifferent. It is either an act of vivacity and joy, or a feeling of sadness; a transport of pleasure, or a convulsion of anguish: and the exercises of our different dispositions, as well as their gratifications, are likely to prove matter of the greatest importance to our happiness or misery.
The individual is charged with the care of his animal preservation. He may exist in solitude, and, far removed from society, perform many functions of sense, imagination, and reason. He is even rewarded for the proper discharge of those functions; and all the natural exercises which relate to himself, as well as to his fellow-creatures, not only occupy without distressing him, but, in many instances, are attended with positive pleasures, and fill up the hours of life with agreeable occupation.
There is a degree, however, in which we suppose that the care of ourselves becomes a source of painful anxiety and cruel passions; in which it degenerates into avarice, vanity, or pride; and in which, by fostering habits of jealousy and envy, of fear and malice, it becomes as destructive of our own enjoyments, as it is hostile to the welfare of mankind. This evil, however, is not to be charged upon any excess in the care of ourselves, but upon a mere mistake in the choice of our objects. We look abroad for a happiness which is to be found only in the qualities of the heart: We think ourselves dependent on accidents; and are therefore kept in suspense and solicitude: We think ourselves dependent on the will of other men; and are therefore servile and timid: We think our felicity is placed in subjects for which our fellow-creatures are rivals and competitors; and in pursuit of happiness, we engage in those scenes of emulation, envy, hatred, animosity, and revenge, that lead to the highest pitch of distress. We act, in short, as if to preserve ourselves were to retain our weakness, and perpetuate our sufferings. We charge the ills of a distempered imagination, and a corrupt heart, to the account of our fellow-creatures, to whom we refer the pangs of our disappointment or malice; and while we foster our misery, are surprised that the care of ourselves is attended with no better effects. But he who remembers that he is by nature a rational being, and a member of society; that to preserve himself, is to preserve his reason, and to preserve the best feelings of his heart; will encounter with none of these inconveniencies; and in the care of himself, will find subjects only of satisfaction and triumph.
The division of our appetites into benevolent and selfish, has probably, in some degree, helped to mislead our apprehension on the subject of personal enjoyment and private good; and our zeal to prove that virtue is disinterested, has not greatly promoted its cause. The gratification of a selfish desire, it is thought, brings advantage or pleasure to ourselves; that of benevolence terminates in the pleasure or advantage of others: Whereas, in reality, the gratification of every desire is a personal enjoyment, and its value being proportioned to the particular quality or force of the sentiment, it may happen that the same person may reap a greater advantage from the good fortune he has procured to another, than from that he has obtained for himself.
While the gratifications of benevolence, therefore, are as much our own as those of any other desire whatever, the mere exercises of this disposition are, on many accounts, to be considered as the first and the principal constituent of human happiness. Every act of kindness, or of care, in the parent to his child; every emotion of the heart, in friendship or in love, in public zeal, or general humanity, are so many acts of enjoyment and fatisfaction. Pity itself, and compassion, even grief and melancholy, when grafted on some tender affection, partake of the nature of the stock; and if they are not positive pleasures, are at least pains of a peculiar nature, which we do not even with to exchange but for a very real enjoyment, obtained in relieving our object. Even extremes in this class of our dispositions, as they are the reverse of hatred, envy, and malice, so they are never attended with those excruciating anxieties, jealousies, and fears, which tear the interested mind; or if, in reality, any ill passion arise from a pretended attachment to our fellow-creatures, that attachment may be safely condemned, as not genuine. If we be distrustful or jealous, our pretended affection is probably no more than a desire of attention and personal consideration, a motive which frequently inclines us to be connected with our fellow-creatures; but to which we are as frequently willing to sacrifice their happiness. We consider them as the tools of our vanity, pleasure, or interest; not as the parties on whom we may bestow the effects of our good-will, and our love.
A mind devoted to this class of its affections, being occupied with an object that may engage it habitually, is not reduced to court the amusements or pleasures with which persons of an ill temper are obliged to repair their disgusts: And temperance becomes an easy task when gratifications of sense are supplanted by those of the heart. Courage, too, is most easily assumed, or is rather inseparable from that ardour of the mind, in society, friendship, or in public action, which makes us forget subjects of personal anxiety or fear, and attend chiefly to the object of our zeal or affection, not to the trifling inconveniencies, dangers, or hardships, which we ourselves may encounter in striving to maintain it.
It should seem, therefore, to be the happiness of man, to make his social dispositions the ruling spring of his occupations; to state himself as the member of a community, for whose general good his heart may glow with an ardent zeal, to the suppression of those personal cares which are the foundation of painful anxieties, fear, jealousy, and envy; or, as Mr. Pope expresses the same setiment,
We commonly apprehend, that it is our duty to do kindnesses, and our happiness to receive them: but if, in reality, courage, and a heart devoted to the good of mankind, are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellowcreatures, is a participation of this happy character.
If this be the good of the individual, it is likewise that of mankind; and virtue no longer imposes a task by which we are obliged to bestow upon others that good from which we ourselves refrain; but supposes, in the highest degree, as possessed by ourselves, that state of felicity which we are required to promote in the world. “You will confer the greatest benefit on your city,” says Epictetus, “not by raising the roofs, but by exalting the souls of your fellow-citizens; for it is better that great souls should live in small habitations, than that abject slaves should burrow in great houses† .”
To the benevolent, the satisfaction of others is a ground of enjoyment; and existence itself, in a world that is governed by the wisdom of God, is a blessing. The mind, freed from cares that lead to pusillanimity and meanness, becomes calm, active, fearless, and bold; capable of every enterprise, and vigorous in the exercise of every talent, by which the nature of man is adorned. On this foundation was raised the admirable character, which, during a certain period of their story, distinguished the celebrated nations of antiquity, and rendered familiar and ordinary in their manners, examples of magnanimity, which, under governments less favourable to the public affections, rarely occur; or which, without being much practised, or even understood, are made subjects of admiration and swelling panegyric. “Thus,” says Xenophon, “died Thrasybulus; who indeed appears to have been a good man.” What valuable praise, and how significant to those who know the story of this admirable person! The members of those illustrious states, from the habit of considering themselves as part of a community, or at least as deeply involved with some order of men in the state, were regardless of personal considerations: they had a perpetual view to objects which excite a great ardour in the soul; which led them to act perpetually in the view of their fellow-citizens, and to practise those arts of deliberation, elocution, policy, and war, on which the fortunes of nations, or of men, in their collective body, depend. To the force of mind collected in this career, and to the improvements of wit which were made in pursuing it, these nations owed, not only their magnanimity, and the superiority of their political and military conduct, but even the arts of poetry and literature, which among them were only the inferior appendages of a genius otherwise excited, cultivated, and refined.
To the ancient Greek, or the Roman, the individual was nothing, and the public every thing. To the modern, in too many nations of Europe, the individual is every thing, and the public nothing. The state is merely a combination of departments, in which consideration, wealth, eminence, or power, are offered as the reward of service. It was the nature of modern government, even in its first institution, to bestow on every individual a fixed station and dignity, which he was to maintain for himself. Our ancestors, in rude ages, during the recess of wars from abroad, fought for their personal claims at home, and by their competitions, and the balance of their powers, maintained a kind of political freedom in the state, while private parties were subject to continual wrongs and oppressions. Their posterity, in times more polished, have repressed the civil disorders in which the activity of earlier ages chiefly consisted; but they employ the calm they have gained, not in fostering a zeal for those laws, and that constitution of government, to which they owe their protection, but in practising apart, and each for himself, the several arts of personal advancement, or profit, which their political establishments may enable them to pursue with success. Commerce, which may be supposed to comprehend every lucrative art, is accordingly considered as the great object of nations, and the principal study of mankind.
So much are we accustomed to consider personal fortune as the sole object of care, that even under popular establishments, and in states where different orders of men are summoned to partake in the government of their country, and where the liberties they enjoy cannot be long preserved, without vigilance and activity on the part of the subject; still they, who, in the vulgar phrase, have not their fortunes to make, are supposed to be at a loss for occupation, and betake themselves to solitary pastimes, or cultivate what they are pleased to call a taste for gardening, building, drawing, or musick. With this aid, they endeavour to fill up the blanks of a listless life, and avoid the necessity of curing their languors by any positive service to their country, or to mankind.
The weak or the malicious are well employed in any thing that is innocent, and are fortunate in finding any occupation which prevents the effects of a temper that would prey upon themselves, or upon their fellow-creatures. But they who are blessed with a happy disposition, with capacity and vigour, incur a real debauchery, by having any amusement that occupies an improper share of their time; and are really cheated of their happiness, in being made to believe, that any occupation or pastime is better fitted to amuse themselves, than that which at the same time produces some real good to their fellow-creatures.
This sort of entertainment, indeed, cannot be the choice of the mercenary, the envious, or the malicious. Its value is known only to persons of an opposite temper; and to their experience alone we appeal. Guided by mere disposition, and without the aid of reflection, in business, in friendship, and in public life, they often acquit themselves well; and borne with satisfaction on the tide of their emotions and sentiments, enjoy the present hour, without recollection of the past, or hopes of the future. It is in speculation, not in practice, they are made to discover, that virtue is a task of severity and self-denial.
[* ]The same maxim will apply throughout every part of nature. To love, is to enjoy pleasure. To hate, is to be in pain.
[† ]Mrs. Carter’s translation of the works of Epictetus.