Abbildungen der Seite

centricity consists in a thorough deviation from the routine of action both corporeal and mental, pursued by the common herd of our species, eccentric I am, and glory in being so. "But,' said I, "you are at any rate a subject of England, a member of her civil compact: "I am so, certainly," he replied: "as a birthright I inherit protection from, and am amenable to her laws; and while within the pale of her dominion, am one of her community and from the protecting spirit of her Government, so too, are you now. And yet, strange as it may sound to your raw notions, (such they must of necessity be,) I am so far from being satisfied with my situation, that at this moment I am penetrated with profound regret at holding the rank I do."-"Indeed!" said I, "then that must be the effect of your knowing more than I do, of the formation of what is called the Civilized World; but I do not scruple to own my ignorance."—"Then,” said he, “you are in a fair way of amendment: I will, by degrees, try to set you somewhat right, to show you things more in their true light, and by their right names: I have no wish to assume authority over your mind, to fashion your notions by my own; that would be a vile usurpation, at which my nature recoils. You possess free agency, see and judge for yourself:

[ocr errors]

all I can do, will be to assist you in drawing correct conclusions from true premises; to guard you from error and deception by outside appearances. And this office I may, from experience and prior trial, claim with as much justice and good intention, as one may warn another from venturing on ice, which he who warns, has just found too weak to bear his weight. You have only beheld as a spectator, the automatons who dance their parts, and sink from view: I have sedulously strove to detect the true position of the wires and hands, which, unseen, direct their movements.'

"But," I exclaimed, "you hint I have been already misled by appearances; how do I know but that you will unintentionally deceive me by your expositions? nay, how can I tell but that you are yourself mistaken? I demand a touchstone, a scale by which I may reduce to the standard of truth, your explanations, your arguments; some sure and certain test by which all opinion, all assertion may be put to the severest proof, their several natures will admit." You need not wander far in search of that which lies within your own bosom," said he: "your conscience, that voice whose still small whispers you yet scarce hear through the mist of ignorance, that voice which soon shall speak loud as the trumpet's


sound; through the bright medium of knowledge, that, and that only, must be your monitor and guide. I tell you, once for all, to beware of placing a blind confidence in me: men will always differ on subjects incapable of demonstrative proof: what that proof is, I will hereafter shew you; but it remains for you to be convinced, that certain actions and facts are Right or Wrong, ought or ought not to be, from their concordance, or discordance with that voice that if in unison they constitute Good, or Virtue; if in dissonance, Evil, or Vice.

"It has been said this standard is false, or subject to variation, because men's consciences and notions of good and evil, are not every where the same; and that therefore it will not serve as a common centre, around which all the circles of opinion may revolve without collision: we will endeavour to see whether this assertion be warrantable or not; whether, when the faculties of man are enlightened by the immeasurable brightness of science, by which he learns his real place among the powers of matter and motion, he will or will not, be enabled to reduce the voice of conscience to a key note, or fundamental sound, to act as a generator, or pivot, to an universal harmony of thought and action. It has been said,

that good and evil are relative terms; or, in other words, that what is virtue in one place, is not in another: it remains for us to see whether they are, or are not, abstract and absolute in their essence; orto speak more plainly, that virtue is virtue, and vice is vice, in all places and at all times; and will continue to be so to all eternity."

"I begin to perceive," said I, "that I have yet much to learn: I find I know comparatively nothing; and yet, after all, I cannot see what reason you have to complain; why you, of all men, should be so dissatisfied. You possess all the comforts of life, all that is necessary to make life desirable. It is evident you possess a cultivated mind, and moreover, that which enables you to purchase by the labour of others, your own ease and leisure.” "Alas!" said he, "these are the very causes of my chagrin; oh, pause! and think how selfishly you are reasoning: it is most true, I do indeed possess all these resources usually deemed as of course the sources of happiness; but do our fellow-men possess them too? I tell you, my friend, that this night, at the moment I am speaking, thousands of the sons of men are traversing this great city without the means of procuring food or clothing, the only absolute

necessaries of man, suffering all the extremity of bodily and mental woe in shapes too dreadful to name; whose mourning in their dark abodes of misery, would, if heard, curdle your very blood; while we two are rioting in a superfluity of that of which they want the smallest portion. Do not imagine me so vain as to fancy myself the only one to whom reflections such as these suggest themselves. Multitudes of the best and wisest have long since acknowledged the existence of these enormities, and as feelingly deplored them; but it is these reflections which strike me with remorse. How can, or ought I, to sit down basking in the excess of what others, born with the same natural right of enjoyment, have not in any thing like sufficiency?"—" But," said I, “it was always told me, that inequality and gradation were the bases of all society: that unequal distribution followed man considered as a gregarious animal, as a necessitous consequent :" "Then," said L, "I think they lied. But let us hear who told you so; were they fools, or bigots, or a compound of the two, in undivided moieties? Did they speak from sheer ignorance, or because, knowing. better, they wished the present system to continue? I hope to convince you shortly, how by far the greater

« ZurückWeiter »