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LETTER XXVIII. - Vicesimus Knox, The Works of Vicesimus Knox, vol. 5 
The Works of Vicesimus Knox, D.D. with a Biographical Preface. In Seven Volumes (London: J. Mawman, 1824). Vol. 5.
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I thank you for the letters which you often send me, containing inquiries suggested by your own reading and reflection. You know I never meant to write a regular system in a familiar correspondence. Your suggestions of occasional topics agreeably breaks the chain of a too formal arrangement.
In studying ethics, you say you could not be disgusted, as well as perplexed, by the diversity of opinion concerning the chief good of man. You ask me my opinion concerning the grand question, In what consists happiness? It is a subject on which I might involve you and myself in a long disquisition; but take the opinions of a modern philosopher, a little dilated.
Mr. Paley enumerates four particulars in which happiness consists:
1st, The exercise of the social affections.
2dly, The exercise of our faculties, either of body or mind, in the pursuit of some engaging end; because engagement is the great point to be pursued.
3rdly, Happiness depends upon the prudent constitution: of the habits. Set the habits in such a manner, that every change may be a change for the better.
4thly, Happiness consists in health. When we are in perfect health and spirits, we feel in ourselves a happiness, independent of any outward gratification whatever.
Let us consider these particulars in their order.
In the first place, happiness consists in the exercise of the social affections.
Your Lordship has no doubt experienced the sweet sensations attending the kind affections. There was a complacency diffused itself over your bosom, whenever you acted kindly, affectionately, cordially. Cherish such sensations. Sorry I am to say, that this fountain of happiness is often choked and dried up in the circles of gaiety and pleasure to which your rank will introduce you; and the highlypolished man of fashion becomes a selfish animal, seeking only his own gratification: he deceives himself by his greediness: he loses one of the sweetest enjoyments of life: he becomes narrow-minded, morose, imperious, and consequently very unamiable to all around him, even to his dependents and expectants; they secretly despise him, while, for their own interest, they court his favour. As you value your happiness, never lose sight of this first requisite to solid enjoyment, the exercise of the social affections.
The second particular is, the exercise of our faculties, either of body or mind, in the pursuit of some engaging end.
But here, my Lord, great caution is necessary. There are ends very engaging, which are finally productive of mischief and misery. I hope you will avoid gaming entirely; it is certainly engaging, but its consequences tend to degrade nobility: it introduces to low company; it endangers the estate; it occupies the mind so closely, as to leave little attention for the really noble objects which ought to engage men distinguished in society by titles and by many valuable privileges. Let the charms of science engage you: let the improvement of arts engage you: let the pleasures of conversation or study engage you: let politics engage you; I do not mean the politics of a party, but the enlarged liberal politics of a philanthropist, and a citizen of the world, as well as of a Briton. Be constantly occupied in some laudable, honourable, useful pursuit, and you will feel it your happiness. When the serious business of life is laid aside awhile, be engaged in amusements which do not degrade, while they recreate. I know you disapprove the taste for boxing, and some other fashionable modes of killing time, which, if tolerable in the lowest plebeian, are unbecoming a peer. Surely the grand theatre of the world affords entertaining objects enough for you to contemplate, without reducing you to the necessity of herding with the meanest of the performers on it, in the meanest of their pastimes.
The third requisite to happiness, mentioned by our philosophical divine, is the prudent constitution of the habits. “Set the habits,” says he, “in such a manner, that every change may be for the better.”
Do not too eagerly anticipate pleasure. Do not use up, as he expresses it, the materials of happiness too soon: be moderate: glut not the appetite, but keep it in a state susceptible of obvious gratification. Accustom not yourself to violent pleasures, which must, from their nature, be difficult to obtain, and short in duration. Form a habit of deriving pleasure from natural circumstances, and such as may occur every day in the common course of human life.
“In the fourth place, happiness consists in health. When we are in perfect health and spirits, we feel a happiness independent of any outward circumstances whatever.”
It has been said, that an attention to health should be a part of our religion. Many of our nobility certainly pursue health by exercise; but remember, my Lord, that temperance and good hours are no less necessary than bodily agitation. Love a life of simplicity; endeavour not, by false refinement, to render man a different animal from that which God and nature have made him. As an animal, he requires rest and refreshment at seasonable hours; and when he follows nature, he also, like the animals around him, commonly enjoys health and vigour. But though health is necessary to happiness, yet surely it is degrading to man, especially in his youth, to be satisfied with health alone; this is to live the life of a brute, or even of a vegetable. Use health in profitable and honourable pursuits; a life so spent would be far more pleasurable and reputable, even if it were shorter, than an inglorious existence dragged out in listless inaction. You were not raised above mankind by your king and country, merely that you might eat, drink, and sleep, without being called to account for your waste of time. To live merely to take exercise for an appetite, and to indulge it, when obtained, in luxurious excess, is, for the sake of life, to lose its very best purposes. Yet your Lordship knows some men, who plume themselves on blood, rank, and title, and yet employ all their morning in fox-hunting or phaeton-driving, that they may carouse in the evening over dull port, and gorge dainties, rendered poisonous by the arts of cookery. But as I have heard you express yourself with pity on such men, I need not dissuade you from imitating their example.
I am, &c.