Review of Soame Jenyns,
A Free Enquiry into the Nature
and Origin of Evil

By Samuel Johnson

Edited by Jack Lynch

The text has been scanned from the 1825 Oxford Works. It doesn't pretend to be a serious critical text, just a convenient one for classroom use. I've made a number of obvious typographical corrections (mostly involving punctuation), and have indented extract quotations. I've also added the paragraph numbers for ease of reference. Please send notices of errors to Jack Lynch.

[1] This is a treatise, consisting of six letters, upon a very difficult and important question, which, I am afraid, this author's endeavours will not free from the perplexity which has entangled the speculatists of all ages, and which must always continue while we see but in part. He calls it a Free Enquiry, and, indeed, his freedom is, I think, greater than his modesty. Though he is far from the contemptible arrogance, or the impious licentiousness of Bolingbroke, yet he decides, too easily, upon questions out of the reach of human determination, with too little consideration of mortal weakness, and with too much vivacity for the necessary caution.

[2] In the first letter, on evil in general, he observes, that, "it is the solution of this important question, whence came evil? alone, that can ascertain the moral characteristic of God, without which there is an end of all distinction between good and evil." Yet he begins this inquiry by this declaration: "That there is a supreme being, infinitely powerful, wise, and benevolent, the great creator and preserver of all things, is a truth so clearly demonstrated, that it shall be here taken for granted." What is this, but to say, that we have already reason to grant the existence of those attributes of God, which the present inquiry is designed to prove? The present inquiry is, then, surely made to no purpose. The attributes, to the demonstration of which the solution of this great question is necessary, have been demonstrated, without any solution, or by means of the solution of some former writer.

[3] He rejects the Manichean system, but imputes to it an absurdity, from which, amidst all its absurdities, it seems to be free, and adopts the system of Mr. Pope.

[4] "That pain is no evil, if asserted with regard to the individuals who suffer it, is downright nonsense; but if considered as it affects the universal system, is an undoubted truth, and means only, that there is no more pain in it, than what is necessary to the production of happiness. How many soever of these evils, then, force themselves into the creation, so long as the good preponderates, it is a work well worthy of infinite wisdom and benevolence; and, notwithstanding the imperfections of its parts, the whole is, most undoubtedly, perfect."

[5] And, in the former part of the letter, he gives the principle of his system in these words:

[6] "Omnipotence cannot work contradictions; it can only effect all possible things. But so little are we acquainted with the whole system of nature, that we know not what are possible, and what are not; but if we may judge from that constant mixture of pain with pleasure, and inconveniency with advantage, which we must observe in every thing around us, we have reason to conclude, that, to endue created beings with perfection, that is, to produce good, exclusive of evil, is one of those impossibilities, which even infinite power cannot accomplish."

[7] This is elegant and acute, but will by no means calm discontent, or silence curiosity; for, whether evil can be wholly separated from good or not, it is plain, that they may be mixed, in various degrees, and, as far as human eyes can judge, the degree of evil might have been less, without any impediment to good.

[8] The second letter, on the evils of imperfection, is little more than a paraphrase of Pope's epistles, or, yet less than a paraphrase, a mere translation of poetry into prose. This is, surely, to attack difficulty with very disproportionate abilities, to cut the Gordian knot with very blunt instruments. When we are told of the insufficiency of former solutions, why is one of the latest, which no man can have forgotten, given us again? I am told, that this pamphlet is not the effort of hunger; what can it be, then, but the product of vanity? and yet, how can vanity be gratified by plagiarism or transcription? When this speculatist finds himself prompted to another performance, let him consider, whether he is about to disburden his mind, or employ his fingers; and, if I might venture to offer him a subject, I should wish, that he would solve this question: Why he, that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer?

[9] Yet is not this letter without some sentiments, which, though not new, are of great importance, and may be read, with pleasure, in the thousandth repetition.

[10] "Whatever we enjoy, is purely a free gift from our creator; but, that we enjoy no more, can never, sure, be deemed an injury, or a just reason to question his infinite benevolence. All our happiness is owing to his goodness; but, that it is no greater, is owing only to ourselves; that is, to our not having any inherent right to any happiness, or even to any existence at all. This is no more to be imputed to God, than the wants of a beggar to the person who has relieved him: that he had something, was owing to his benefactor; but that he had no more, only to his own original poverty."

[11] Thus far he speaks what every man must approve, and what every wise man has said before him. He then gives us the system of subordination, not invented, for it was known, I think, to the Arabian metaphysicians, but adopted by Pope, and, from him, borrowed by the diligent researches of this great investigator.

[12] "No system can possibly be formed, even in imagination, without a subordination of parts. Every animal body must have different members subservient to each other; every picture must be composed of various colours, and of light and shade; all harmony must be formed of trebles, tenours, and bases; every beautiful and useful edifice must consist of higher and lower, more and less magnificent apartments. This is in the very essence of all created things, and, therefore, cannot be prevented, by any means whatever, unless by not creating them at all."

[13] These instances are used, instead of Pope's oak and weeds, or Jupiter and his satellites; but neither Pope, nor this writer, have much contributed to solve the difficulty. Perfection, or imperfection, of unconscious beings has no meaning, as referred to themselves; the base and the treble are equally perfect; the mean and magnificent apartments feel no pleasure or pain from the comparison. Pope might ask the weed, why it was less than the oak? but the weed would never ask the question for itself. The base and treble differ only to the hearer, meanness and magnificence only to the inhabitant. There is no evil but must inhere in a conscious being, or be referred to it; that is, evil must be felt, before it is evil. Yet, even on this subject, many questions might be offered, which human understanding has not yet answered, and which the present haste of this extract will not suffer me to dilate.

[14] He proceeds to an humble detail of Pope's opinion: "The universe is a system, whose very essence consists in subordination; a scale of beings descending, by insensible degrees, from infinite perfection to absolute nothing; in which, though we may justly expect to find perfection in the whole, could we possibly comprehend it; yet would it be the highest absurdity to hope for it in all its parts, because the beauty and happiness of the whole depend altogether on the just inferiority of its parts; that is, on the comparative imperfections of the several beings of which it is composed.

[15] "It would have been no more an instance of God's wisdom to have created no beings, but of the highest and most perfect order, than it would be of a painter's art to cover his whole piece with one single colour, the most beautiful he could compose. Had he confined himself to such, nothing could have existed but demi-gods, or archangels, and, then, all inferior orders must have been void and uninhabited; but as it is, surely, more agreeable to infinite benevolence, that all these should be filled up with beings capable of enjoying happiness themselves, and contributing to that of others, they must, necessarily, be filled with inferior beings; that is, with such as are less perfect, but from whose existence, notwithstanding that less perfection, more felicity, upon the whole, accrues to the universe, than if no such had been created. It is, moreover, highly probable, that there is such a connexion between all ranks and orders, by subordinate degrees, that they mutually support each other's existence, and every one, in its place, is absolutely necessary towards sustaining the whole vast and magnificent fabric.

[16] "Our pretenses for complaint could be of this only, that we are not so high in the scale of existence as our ignorant ambition may desire; a pretense which must eternally subsist, because, were we ever so much higher, there would be still room for infinite power to exalt us; and, since no link in the chain can be broke, the same reason for disquiet must remain to those who succeed to that chasm, which must be occasioned by our preferment. A man can have no reason to repine, that he is not an angel; nor a horse, that he is not a man; much less, that, in their several stations, they possess not the faculties of another; for this would be an insufferable misfortune."

[17] This doctrine of the regular subordination of beings, the scale of existence, and the chain of nature, I have often considered, but always left the inquiry in doubt and uncertainty.

[18] That every being not infinite, compared with infinity, must be imperfect, is evident to intuition; that, whatever is imperfect must have a certain line which it cannot pass, is equally certain. But the reason which determined this limit, and for which such being was suffered to advance thus far, and no farther, we shall never be able to discern. Our discoverers tell us, the creator has made beings of all orders, and that, therefore, one of them must be such as man; but this system seems to be established on a concession, which, if it be refused, cannot be extorted.

[19] Every reason which can be brought to prove, that there are beings of every possible sort, will prove, that there is the greatest number possible of every sort of beings; but this, with respect to man, we know, if we know any thing, not to be true.

[20] It does not appear, even to the imagination, that of three orders of being, the first and the third receive any advantage from the imperfection of the second, or that, indeed, they may not equally exist, though the second had never been, or should cease to be; and why should that be concluded necessary, which cannot be proved even to be useful?

[21] The scale of existence, from infinity to nothing, cannot possibly have being. The highest being not infinite, must be, as has been often observed, at an infinite distance below infinity. Cheyne, who, with the desire inherent in mathematicians to reduce every thing to mathematical images, considers all existence as a cone; allows that the basis is at an infinite distance from the body; and in this distance between finite and infinite, there will be room, for ever, for an infinite series of indefinable existence.

[22] Between the lowest positive existence and nothing, wherever we suppose positive existence to cease, is another chasm infinitely deep; where there is room again for endless orders of subordinate nature, continued for ever and for ever, and yet infinitely superiour to nonexistence.

[23] To these meditations humanity is unequal. But yet we may ask, not of our maker, but of each other, since, on the one side, creation, wherever it stops, must stop infinitely below infinity, and on the other, infinitely above nothing, what necessity there is, that it should proceed so far, either way, that beings so high or so low should ever have existed? We may ask; but, I believe, no created wisdom can give an adequate answer.

[24] Nor is this all. In the scale, wherever it begins or ends, are infinite vacuities. At whatever distance we suppose the next order of beings to be above man, there is room for an intermediate order of beings between them; and if for one order, then for infinite orders; since every thing that admits of more or less, and consequently all the parts of that which admits them, may be infinitely divided. So that, as far as we can judge, there may be room in the vacuity between any two steps of the scale, or between any two points of the cone of being, for infinite exertion of infinite power.

[25] Thus it appears, how little reason those, who repose their reason upon the scale of being, have to triumph over them who recur to any other expedient of solution, and what difficulties arise, on every side, to repress the rebellions of presumptuous decision: "Qui pauca considerat, facile pronunciat." In our passage through the boundless ocean of disquisition, we often take fogs for land, and, after having long toiled to approach them, find, instead of repose and harbours, new storms of objection, and fluctuations of uncertainty.

[26] We are next entertained with Pope's alleviations of those evils which we are doomed to suffer.

[27] "Poverty, or the want of riches, is generally compensated by having more hopes, and fewer fears, by a greater share of health, and a more exquisite relish of the smallest enjoyments, than those who possess them are usually blessed with. The want of taste and genius, with all the pleasures that arise from them, are commonly recompensed by a more useful kind of common sense, together with a wonderful delight, as well as success, in the busy pursuits of a scrambling world. The sufferings of the sick are greatly relieved by many trifling gratifications, imperceptible to others, and, sometimes, almost repaid by the inconceivable transports occasioned by the return of health and vigour. Folly cannot be very grievous, because imperceptible; and I doubt not but there is some truth in that rant of a mad poet, that there is a pleasure in being mad, which none but madmen know. Ignorance, or the want of knowledge and literature, the appointed lot of all born to poverty and the drudgeries of life, is the only opiate capable of infusing that insensibility, which can enable them to endure the miseries of the one, and the fatigues of the other. It is a cordial, administered by the gracious hand of providence, of which they ought never to be deprived by an ill-judged and improper education. It is the basis of all subordination, the support of society, and the privilege of individuals; and I have ever thought it a most remarkable instance of the divine wisdom, that, whereas in all animals, whose individuals rise little above the rest of their species, knowledge is instinctive; in man, whose individuals are so widely different, it is acquired by education; by which means the prince and the labourer, the philosopher and the peasant, are, in some measure, fitted for their respective situations."

[28] Much of these positions is, perhaps, true; and the whole paragraph might well pass without censure, were not objections necessary to the establishment of knowledge. Poverty is very gently paraphrased by want of riches. In that sense, almost every man may, in his own opinion, be poor. But there is another poverty, which is want of competence of all that can soften the miseries of life, of all that can diversify attention, or delight imagination. There is yet another poverty, which is want of necessaries, a species of poverty which no care of the publick, no charity of particulars, can preserve many from feeling openly, and many secretly.

[29] That hope and fear are inseparably, or very frequently, connected with poverty and riches, my surveys of life have not informed me. The milder degrees of poverty are, sometimes, supported by hope; but the more severe often sink down in motionless despondence. Life must be seen, before it can be known. This author and Pope, perhaps, never saw the miseries which they imagine thus easy to be borne. The poor, indeed, are insensible of many little vexations, which sometimes imbitter the possessions, and pollute the enjoyments, of the rich. They are not pained by casual incivility, or mortified by the mutilation of a compliment; but this happiness is like that of a malefactor, who ceases to feel the cords that bind him, when the pincers are tearing his flesh.

[30] That want of taste for one enjoyment is supplied by the pleasures of some other, may be fairly allowed; but the compensations of sickness I have never found near to equivalence, and the transports of recovery only prove the intenseness of the pain.

[31] With folly, no man is willing to confess himself very intimately acquainted, and, therefore, its pains and pleasures are kept secret. But what the author says of its happiness, seems applicable only to fatuity, or gross dulness; for that inferiority of understanding, which makes one man, without any other reason, the slave, or tool, or property of another, which makes him sometimes useless, and sometimes ridiculous, is often felt with very quick sensibility. On the happiness of madmen, as the case is not very frequent, it is not necessary to raise a disquisition, but I cannot forbear to observe, that I never yet knew disorders of mind increase felicity: every madman is either arrogant and irascible, or gloomy and suspicious, or possessed by some passion, or notion, destructive to his quiet. He has always discontent in his look, and malignity in his bosom. And, if he had the power of choice, he would soon repent who should resign his reason to secure his peace.

[32] Concerning the portion of ignorance necessary to make the condition of the lower classes of mankind safe to the publick, and tolerable to themselves, both morals and policy exact a nicer inquiry than will be very soon or very easily made. There is, undoubtedly, a degree of knowledge which will direct a man to refer all to providence, and to acquiesce in the condition with which omniscient goodness has determined to allot him; to consider this world as a phantom, that must soon glide from before his eyes, and the distresses and vexations that encompass him, as dust scattered in his path, as a blast that chills him for a moment, and passes off for ever.

[33] Such wisdom, arising from the comparison of a part with the whole of our existence, those that want it most cannot possibly obtain from philosophy; nor, unless the method of education, and the general tenour of life are changed, will very easily receive it from religion. The bulk of mankind is not likely to be very wise or very good; and I know not, whether there are not many states of life, in which all knowledge, less than the highest wisdom, will produce discontent and danger. I believe it may be sometimes found, that a little learning is, to a poor man, a dangerous thing. But such is the condition of humanity, that we easily see, or quickly feel the wrong, but cannot always distinguish the right. Whatever knowledge is superfluous, in irremediable poverty, is hurtful, but the difficulty is to determine when poverty is irremediable, and at what point superfluity begins. Gross ignorance every man has found equally dangerous with perverted knowledge. Men, left wholly to their appetites and their instincts, with little sense of moral or religious obligation, and with very faint distinctions of right and wrong, can never be safely employed, or confidently trusted; they can be honest only by obstinacy, and diligent only by compulsion or caprice. Some instruction, therefore, is necessary, and much, perhaps, may be dangerous.

[34] Though it should be granted, that those who are born to poverty and drudgery, should not be deprived, by an improper education, of the opiate of ignorance; even this concession will not be of much use to direct our practice, unless it be determined, who are those that are born to poverty. To entail irreversible poverty upon generation after generation, only because the ancestor happened to be poor, is, in itself, cruel, if not unjust, and is wholly contrary to the maxims of a commercial nation, which always suppose and promote a rotation of property, and offer every individual a chance of mending his condition by his diligence. Those, who communicate literature to the son of a poor man consider him, as one not born to poverty, but to the necessity of deriving a better fortune from himself. In this attempt, as in others, many fail and many succeed. Those that fail, will feel their misery more acutely; but since poverty is now confessed to be such a calamity, as cannot be borne without the opiate of insensibility, I hope the happiness of those whom education enables to escape from it, may turn the balance against that exacerbation which the others suffer.

[35] I am always afraid of determining on the side of envy or cruelty. The privileges of education may, sometimes, be improperly bestowed, but I shall always fear to withhold them, lest I should be yielding to the suggestions of pride, while I persuade myself that I am following the maxims of policy; and, under the appearance of salutary restraints, should be indulging the lust of dominion, and that malevolence which delights in seeing others depressed.

[36] Pope's doctrine is, at last, exhibited in a comparison, which, like other proofs of the same kind is better adapted to delight the fancy than convince the reason,

[37] "Thus the universe resembles a large and well-regulated family, in which all the officers and servants, and even the domestic animals, are subservient to each other, in a proper subordination: each enjoys the privileges and perquisites peculiar to his place, and, at the same time, contributes, by that just subordination, to the magnificence and happiness of the whole."

[38] The magnificence of a house is of use or pleasure always to the master, and sometimes to the domesticks. But the magnificence of the universe adds nothing to the supreme being; for any part of its inhabitants, with which human knowledge is acquainted, an universe much less spacious or splendid would have been sufficient; and of happiness it does not appear, that any is communicated from the beings of a lower world to those of a higher.

[39] The inquiry after the cause of natural evil is continued in the third letter, in which, as in the former, there is mixture of borrowed truth, and native folly, of some notions, just and trite, with others uncommon and ridiculous.

[40] His opinion of the value and importance of happiness is certainly just, and I shall insert it; not that it will give any information to any reader, but it may serve to show, how the most common notion may be swelled in sound, and diffused in bulk, till it shall, perhaps, astonish the author himself.

[41] "Happiness is the only thing of real value in existence, neither riches, nor power, nor wisdom, nor learning, nor strength, nor beauty, nor virtue, nor religion, nor even life itself, being of any importance, but as they contribute to its production. All these are, in themselves, neither good nor evil: happiness alone is their great end, and they are desirable only as they tend to promote it."

[42] Success produces confidence. After this discovery of the value of happiness, he proceeds, without any distrust of himself, to tell us what has been hid from all former inquirers.

[43] "The true solution of this important question, so long and so vainly searched for by the philosophers of all ages and all countries, I take to be, at last, no more than this, that these real evils proceed from the same source as those imaginary ones of imperfection, before treated of, namely, from that subordination, without which no created system can subsist; all subordination implying imperfection, all imperfection evil, and all evil some kind of inconveniency or suffering: so that there must be particular inconveniencies and sufferings annexed to every particular rank of created beings by the circumstances of things, and their modes of existence.

[44] "God, indeed, might have made us quite other creatures, and placed us in a world quite differently constituted; but then we had been no longer men, and whatever beings had occupied our stations in the universal system, they must have been liable to the same inconveniencies."

[45] In all this, there is nothing that can silence the inquiries of curiosity, or calm the perturbations of doubt. Whether subordination implies imperfection may be disputed. The means respecting themselves may be as perfect as the end. The weed, as a weed, is no less perfect than the oak, as an oak. That imperfection implies evil, and evil suffering, is by no means evident. Imperfection may imply privative evil, or the absence of some good, but this privation produces no suffering, but by the help of knowledge. An infant at the breast is yet an imperfect man, but there is no reason for belief, that he is unhappy by his immaturity, unless some positive pain be superadded.

[46] When this author presumes to speak of the universe, I would advise him a little to distrust his own faculties, however large and comprehensive. Many words, easily understood on common occasions, become uncertain and figurative, when applied to the works of omnipotence. Subordination, in human affairs, is well understood; but, when it is attributed to the universal system, its meaning grows less certain, like the petty distinctions of locality, which are of good use upon our own globe, but have no meaning with regard to infinite space, in which nothing is high or low.

[47] That, if man, by exaltation to a higher nature, were exempted from the evils which he now suffers, some other being must suffer them; that, if man were not man, some other being must be man, is a position arising from his established notion of the scale of being. A notion to which Pope has given some importance, by adopting it, and of which I have, therefore, endeavoured to show the uncertainty and inconsistency. This scale of being I have demonstrated to be raised by presumptuous imagination, to rest on nothing at the bottom, to lean on nothing at the top, and to have vacuities, from step to step, through which any order of being may sink into nihility without any inconvenience, so far as we can judge, to the next rank above or below it. We are, therefore, little enlightened by a writer who tells us, that any being in the state of man must suffer what man suffers, when the only question that requires to be resolved is: Why any being is in this state.

[48] Of poverty and labour he gives just and elegant representations, which yet do not remove the difficulty of the first and fundamental question, though supposing the present state of man necessary, they may supply some motives to content.

[49] "Poverty is what all could not possibly have been exempted from, not only by reason of the fluctuating nature of human possessions, but because the world could not subsist without it; for, had all been rich, none could have submitted to the commands of another, or the necessary drudgeries of life; thence all governments must have been dissolved, arts neglected, and lands uncultivated, and so an universal penury have overwhelmed all, instead of now and then pinching a few. Hence, by the by, appears the great excellence of charity, by which men are enabled, by a particular distribution of the blessings and enjoyments of life, on proper occasions, to prevent that poverty, which, by a general one, omnipotence itself could never have prevented; so that, by enforcing this duty, God, as it were, demands our assistance to promote universal happiness, and to shut out misery at every door, where it strives to intrude itself.

[50] "Labour, indeed, God might easily have excused us from, since, at his command, the earth would readily have poured forth all her treasures, without our inconsiderable assistance; but, if the severest labour cannot sufficiently subdue the malignity of human nature, what plots and machinations, what wars, rapine, and devastation, what profligacy and licentiousness, must have been the consequences of universal idleness! So that labour ought only to be looked upon, as a task kindly imposed upon us by our indulgent creator, necessary to preserve our health, our safety, and our innocence."

[51] I am afraid, that "the latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning." If God could easily have excused us from labour, I do not comprehend why he could not possibly have exempted all from poverty. For poverty, in its easier and more tolerable degree, is little more than necessity of labour; and, in its more severe and deplorable state, little more than inability for labour. To be poor is to work for others, or to want the succour of others, without work. And the same exuberant fertility, which would make work unnecessary, might make poverty impossible.

[52] Surely, a man who seems not completely master of his own opinion, should have spoken more cautiously of omnipotence, nor have presumed to say what it could perform, or what it could prevent. I am in doubt, whether those, who stand highest in the scale of being, speak thus confidently of the dispensations of their maker:

"For fools rush in, where angels fear to tread."

[53] Of our inquietudes of mind, his account is still less reasonable: "Whilst men are injured, they must be inflamed with anger; and, whilst they see cruelties, they must be melted with pity; whilst they perceive danger, they must be sensible of fear." This is to give a reason for all evil, by showing, that one evil produces another. If there is danger, there ought to be fear; but, if fear is an evil, why should there be danger? His vindication of pain is of the same kind: pain is useful to alarm us, that we may shun greater evils, but those greater evils must be presupposed, that the fitness of pain may appear.

[54] Treating on death, he has expressed the known and true doctrine with sprightliness of fancy, and neatness of diction. I shall, therefore, insert it. There are truths which, as they are always necessary, do not grow stale by repetition.

[55] "Death, the last and most dreadful of all evils, is so far from being one, that it is the infallible cure for all others.

To die, is landing on some silent shore,
Where billows never beat, nor tempests roar.
Ere well we feel the friendly stroke, 'tis o'er. Garth.

[56] For, abstracted from the sickness and sufferings usually attending it, it is no more than the expiration of that term of life God was pleased to bestow on us, without any claim or merit on our part. But was it an evil ever so great, it could not be remedied, but by one much greater, which is, by living for ever; by which means, our wickedness, unrestrained by the prospect of a future state, would grow so insupportable, our sufferings so intolerable by perseverance, and our pleasures so tiresome by repetition, that no being in the universe could be so completely miserable, as a species of immortal men. We have no reason, therefore, to look upon death as an evil, or to fear it as a punishment, even without any supposition of a future life: but, if we consider it, as a passage to a more perfect state, or a remove only in an eternal succession of still-improving states, (for which we have the strongest reasons,) it will then appear a new favour from the divine munificence; and a man must be as absurd to repine at dying, as a traveller would be, who proposed to himself a delightful tour through various unknown countries, to lament, that he cannot take up his residence at the first dirty inn, which he baits at on the road.

[57] "The instability of human life, or of the changes of its successive periods, of which we so frequently complain, are no more than the necessary progress of it to this necessary conclusion; and are so far from being evils, deserving these complaints, that they are the source of our greatest pleasures, as they are the source of all novelty, from which our greatest pleasures are ever derived. The continual succession of seasons in the human life, by daily presenting to us new scenes, render it agreeable, and, like those of the year, afford us delights by their change, which the choicest of them could not give us by their continuance. In the spring of life, the gilding of the sunshine, the verdure of the fields, and the variegated paintings of the sky, are so exquisite in the eyes of infants, at their first looking abroad into a new world, as nothing, perhaps, afterwards can equal: the heat and vigour of the succeeding summer of youth, ripens for us new pleasures, the blooming maid, the nightly revel, and the jovial chase: the serene autumn of complete manhood feasts us with the golden harvests of our worldly pursuits: nor is the hoary winter of old age destitute of its peculiar comforts and enjoyments, of which the recollection and relation of those past, are, perhaps, none of the least: and, at last, death opens to us a new prospect, from whence we shall, probably, look back upon the diversions and occupations of this world, with the same contempt we do now on our tops and hobby horses, and with the same surprise, that they could ever so much entertain or engage us."

[58] I would not willingly detract from the beauty of this paragraph; and, in gratitude to him who has so well inculcated such important truths, I will venture to admonish him, since the chief comfort of the old is the recollection of the past, so to employ his time and his thoughts, that, when the imbecility of age shall come upon him, he may be able to recreate its languors, by the remembrance of hours spent, not in presumptuous decisions, but modest inquiries; not in dogmatical limitations of omnipotence, but in humble acquiescence, and fervent adoration. Old age will show him, that much of the book, now before us, has no other use than to perplex the scrupulous, and to shake the weak, to encourage impious presumption, or stimulate idle curiosity.

[59] Having thus despatched the consideration of particular evils, he comes, at last, to a general reason, for which evil may be said to be our good. He is of opinion, that there is some inconceivable benefit in pain, abstractedly considered; that pain, however inflicted, or wherever felt, communicates some good to the general system of being, and, that every animal is, some way or other, the better for the pain of every other animal. This opinion he carries so far, as to suppose, that there passes some principle of union through all animal life, as attraction is communicated to all corporeal nature; and, that the evils suffered on this globe, may, by some inconceivable means contribute to the felicity of the inhabitants of the remotest planet.

[60] How the origin of evil is brought nearer to human conception, by any inconceivable means, I am not able to discover. We believed, that the present system of creation was right, though we could not explain the adaptation of one part to the other, or for the whole succession of causes and consequences. Where has this inquirer added to the little knowledge that we had before? He has told us of the benefits of evil, which no man feels, and relations between distant parts of the universe, which he cannot himself conceive. There was enough in this question inconceivable before, and we have little advantage from a new inconceivable solution.

[61] I do not mean to reproach this author for not knowing what is equally hidden from learning and from ignorance. The shame is, to impose words, for ideas, upon ourselves or others. To imagine, that we are going forward, when we are only turning round. To think, that there is any difference between him that gives no reason, and him that gives a reason, which, by his own confession, cannot be conceived.

[62] But, that he may not be thought to conceive nothing but things inconceivable, he has, at last, thought on a way, by which human sufferings may produce good effects. He imagines, that as we have not only animals for food, but choose some for our diversion, the same privilege may be allowed to some beings above us, who may deceive, torment, or destroy us, for the ends, only, of their own pleasure or utility. This he again finds impossible to be conceived, but that impossibility lessens not the probability of the conjecture, which, by analogy, is so strongly confirmed.

[63] I cannot resist the temptation of contemplating this analogy, which, I think, he might have carried further, very much to the advantage of his argument. He might have shown, that these "hunters, whose game is man," have many sports analogous to our own. As we drown whelps and kittens, they amuse themselves, now and then, with sinking a ship, and stand round the fields of Blenheim, or the walls of Prague, as we encircle a cockpit. As we shoot a bird flying, they take a man in the midst of his business or pleasure, and knock him down with an apoplexy. Some of them, perhaps, are virtuosi, and delight in the operations of an asthma, as a human philosopher in the effects of the air-pump. To swell a man with a tympany is as good sport as to blow a frog. Many a merry bout have these frolick beings at the vicissitudes of an ague, and good sport it is to see a man tumble with an epilepsy, and revive and tumble again, and all this he knows not why. As they are wiser and more powerful than we, they have more exquisite diversions; for we have no way of procuring any sport so brisk and so lasting, as the paroxysms of the gout and stone, which, undoubtedly, must make high mirth, especially if the play be a little diversified with the blunders and puzzles of the blind and deaf. We know not how far their sphere of observation may extend. Perhaps, now and then, a merry being may place himself in such a situation, as to enjoy, at once, all the varieties of an epidemical disease, or amuse his leisure with the tossings and contortions of every possible pain, exhibited together.

[64] One sport the merry malice of these beings has found means of enjoying, to which we have nothing equal or similar. They now and then catch a mortal, proud of his parts, and flattered either by the submission of those who court his kindness, or the notice of those who suffer him to court theirs. A head, thus prepared for the reception of false opinions, and the projection of vain designs, they easily fill with idle notions, till, in time, they make their plaything an author; their first diversion commonly begins with an ode or an epistle, then rises, perhaps, to a political irony, and is, at last, brought to its height, by a treatise of philosophy. Then begins the poor animal to entangle himself in sophisms, and flounder in absurdity, to talk confidently of the scale of being, and to give solutions which himself confesses impossible to be understood. Sometimes, however, it happens, that their pleasure is without much mischief. The author feels no pain, but while they are wondering at the extravagance of his opinion, and pointing him out to one another, as a new example of human folly, he is enjoying his own applause and that of his companions, and, perhaps, is elevated with the hope of standing at the head of a new sect.

[65] Many of the books which now crowd the world, may be justly suspected to be written for the sake of some invisible order of beings, for surely they are of no use to any of the corporeal inhabitants of the world. Of the productions of the last bounteous year, how many can be said to serve any purpose of use or pleasure! The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it; and how will either of those be put more in our power, by him who tells us, that we are puppets, of which some creature, not much wiser than ourselves, manages the wires! That a set of beings, unseen and unheard, are hovering about us, trying experiments upon our sensibility, putting us in agonies, to see our limbs quiver; torturing us to madness, that they may laugh at our vagaries; sometimes obstructing the bile, that they may see how a man looks, when he is yellow; sometimes breaking a traveller's bones, to try how he will get home; sometimes wasting a man to a skeleton, and sometimes killing him fat, for the greater elegance of his hide.

[66] This is an account of natural evil, which though, like the rest, not quite new, is very entertaining, though I know not how much it may contribute to patience. The only reason why we should contemplate evil is, that we may bear it better; and I am afraid nothing is much more placidly endured, for the sake of making others sport.

[67] The first pages of the fourth letter are such as incline me both to hope and wish that I shall find nothing to blame in the succeeding part. He offers a criterion of action, on account of virtue and vice, for which I have often contended, and which must be embraced by all who are willing to know, why they act, or why they forbear to give any reason of the conduct to themselves or others.

[68] "In order to find out the true origin of moral evil, it will be necessary, in the first place, to enquire into its nature and essence; or, what it is that constitutes one action evil, and another good. Various have been the opinions of various authors on this criterion of virtue; and this variety has rendered that doubtful which must, otherwise, have been clear and manifest to the meanest capacity. Some, indeed have denied that there is any such thing, because different ages and nations have entertained different sentiments concerning it; but this is just as reasonable, as to assert, that there are neither sun, moon, nor stars, because astronomers have supported different systems of the motions and magnitudes of these celestial bodies. Some have placed it in conformity to truth, some to the fitness of things, and others to the will of God: but all this is merely superficial: they resolve us not, why truth, or the fitness of things, are either eligible or obligatory, or why God should require us to act in one manner rather than another. The true reason of which can possibly be no other than this, because some actions produce happiness, and others misery; so that all moral good and evil are nothing more than the production of natural. This alone it is that makes truth preferable to falsehood, this, that determines the fitness of things, and this that induces God to command some actions, and forbid others. They who extol the truth, beauty and harmony of virtues exclusive of its consequences deal but in pompous nonsense; and they, who would persuade us, that good and evil are things indifferent, depending wholly on the will of God, do but confound the nature of things, as well as all our notions of God himself, by representing him capable of willing contradictions; that is, that we should be, and be happy, and, at the same time, that we should torment and destroy each other; for injuries cannot be made benefits, pain cannot be made pleasure, and, consequently, vice cannot be made virtue, by any power whatever. It is the consequences, therefore, of all human actions that must stamp their value. So far as the general practice of any action tends to produce good, and introduce happiness into the world, so far we may pronounce it virtuous; so much evil as it occasions, such is the degree of vice it contains. I say the general practice, because we must always remember, in judging by this rule, to apply it only to the general species of actions, and not to particular actions; for the infinite wisdom of God, desirous to set bounds to the destructive consequences, which must, otherwise, have followed from the universal depravity of mankind, has so wonderfully contrived the nature of things, that our most vitious actions may, sometimes, accidentally and collaterally, produce good. Thus, for instance, robbery may disperse useless hoards to the benefit of the public; adultery may bring heirs, and good humour too, into many families, where they would otherwise have been wanting; and murder, free the world from tyrants and oppressors. Luxury maintains its thousands, and vanity its ten thousands. Superstition and arbitrary power contribute to the grandeur of many nations, and the liberties of others are preserved by the perpetual contentions of avarice, knavery, selfishness, and ambition; and thus the worst of vices, and the worst of men, are often compelled, by providence, to serve the most beneficial purposes, contrary to their own malevolent tendencies and inclinations; and thus private vices become public benefits, by the force only of accidental circumstances. But this impeaches not the truth of the criterion of virtue, before mentioned, the only solid foundation on which any true system of ethics can be built, the only plain, simple, and uniform rule, by which we can pass any judgment on our actions; but by this we may be enabled, not only to determine which are good, and which are evil, but, almost mathematically, to demonstrate the proportion of virtue or vice which belongs to each, by comparing them with the degrees of happiness or misery which they occasion. But, though the production of happiness is the essence of virtue, it is by no means the end; the great end is the probation of mankind, or the giving them an opportunity of exalting or degrading themselves, in another state, by their behaviour in the present. And thus, indeed, it answers two most important purposes: those are, the conservation of our happiness, and the test of our obedience; or, had not such a test seemed necessary to God's infinite wisdom, and productive of universal good, he would never have permitted the happiness of men, even in this life, to have depended on so precarious a tenure, as their mutual good behaviour to each other. For it is observable, that he, who best knows our formation, has trusted no one thing of importance to our reason or virtue: he trusts only to our appetites for the support of the individual, and the continuance of our species; to our vanity, or compassion, for our bounty to others; and to our fears, for the preservation of ourselves; often to our vices, for the support of government, and, sometimes, to our follies, for the preservation of our religion. But, since some test of our obedience was necessary, nothing, sure, could have been commanded for that end, so fit and proper, and, at the same time, so useful, as the practice of virtue; nothing could have been so justly rewarded with happiness, as the production of happiness, in conformity to the will of God. It is this conformity, alone, which adds merit to virtue, and constitutes the essential difference between morality and religion. Morality obliges men to live honestly and soberly, because such behaviour is most conducive to public happiness, and, consequently, to their own; religion, to pursue the same course, because conformable to the will of their creator. Morality induces them to embrace virtue, from prudential considerations; religion, from those of gratitude and obedience. Morality, therefore, entirely abstracted from religion, can have nothing meritorious in it; it being but wisdom, prudence, or good economy, which, like healths beauty, or riches, are rather obligations conferred upon us by God, than merits in us towards him; for, though we may be justly punished for injuring ourselves, we can claim no reward for self preservation; as suicide deserves punishment and infamy, but a man deserves no reward or honours for not being guilty of it. This I take to be the meaning of all those passages in our scriptures, in which works are represented to have no merit without faith; that is, not without believing in historical facts, in creeds, and articles, but, without being done in pursuance of our belief in God, and in obedience to his commands. And now, having mentioned scripture, I cannot omit observing, that the christian is the only religious or moral institution in the world, that ever set, in a right light, these two material points, the essence and the end of virtue, that ever founded the one in the production of happiness, that is, in universal benevolences or, in their language, charity to all men; the other, in the probation of man, and his obedience to his creator. Sublime and magnificent as was the philosophy of the ancients, all their moral systems were deficient in these two important articles. They were all built on the sandy foundations of the innate beauty of virtue, or enthusiastic patriotism; and their great point in view was the contemptible reward of human glory; foundations, which were, by no means, able to support the magnificent structures which they erected upon them; for the beauty of virtue, independent of its effects, is unmeaning nonsense; patriotism, which injures mankind in general, for the sake of a particular country, is but a more extended selfishness, and really criminal; and all human glory, but a mean and ridiculous delusion.

[69] "The whole affair, then, of religion and morality, the subject of so many thousand volumes, is, in short, no more than this: the supreme being, infinitely good, as well as powerful, desirous to diffuse happiness by all possible means, has created innumerable ranks and orders of beings, all subservient to each other by proper subordination. One of these is occupied by man, a creature endued with such a certain degree of knowledge, reason, and free- will, as is suitable to his situation, and placed, for a time, on this globe, as in a school of probation and education. Here he has an opportunity given him of improving or debasing his nature, in such a manner, as to render himself fit for a rank of higher perfection and happiness, or to degrade himself to a state of greater imperfection and misery; necessary, indeed, towards carrying on the business of the universe, but very grievous and burdensome to those individuals who, by their own misconduct, are obliged to submit to it. The test of this his behaviour is doing good, that is, cooperating with his creator, as far as his narrow sphere of action will permit, in the production of happiness. And thus the happiness and misery of a future state will be the just reward or punishment of promoting or preventing happiness in this. So artificially, by this means, is the nature of all human virtue and vice contrived, that their rewards and punishments are woven, as it were, in their very essence; their immediate effects give us a foretaste of their future, and their fruits, in the present life, are the proper samples of what they must unavoidably produce in another. We have reason given us to distinguish these consequences, and regulate our conduct; and, lest that should neglect its post, conscience also is appointed, as an instinctive kind of monitor, perpetually to remind us both of our interest and our duty."

[70] "Si sic omnia dixisset!" To this account of the essence of vice and virtue, it is only necessary to add, that the consequences of human actions being sometimes uncertain, and sometimes remote, it is not possible, in many cases, for most men, nor in all cases, for any man, to determine what actions will ultimately produce happiness, and, therefore, it was proper that revelation should lay down a rule to be followed, invariably, in opposition to appearances, and, in every change of circumstances, by which we may be certain to promote the general felicity, and be set free from the dangerous temptation of doing evil that good may come. Because it may easily happen, and, in effect, will happen, very frequently, that our own private happiness may be promoted by an act injurious to others, when yet no man can be obliged, by nature, to prefer, ultimately, the happiness of others to his own; therefore, to the instructions of infinite wisdom, it was necessary that infinite power should add penal sanctions. That every man, to whom those instructions shall be imparted, may know, that he can never, ultimately, injure himself by benefiting others, or, ultimately, by injuring others benefit himself; but that, however the lot of the good and bad may be huddled together in the seeming confusion of our present state, the time shall undoubtedly come, when the most virtuous will be most happy.

[71] I am sorry, that the remaining part of this letter is not equal to the first. The author has, indeed, engaged in a disquisition, in which we need not wonder if he fails, in the solution of questions on which philosophers have employed their abilities from the earliest times.

"And found no end, in wandering mazes lost."

[72] He denies, that man was created perfect, because the system requires subordination, and because the power of losing his perfection, of "rendering himself wicked and miserable, is the highest imperfection imaginable." Besides, the regular gradations of the scale of being required, somewhere, "such a creature as man, with all his infirmities about him; and the total removal of those would be altering his nature, and, when he became perfect, he must cease to be man."

[73] I have already spent some considerations on the scale of being, of which, yet, I am obliged to renew the mention, whenever a new argument is made to rest upon it; and I must, therefore, again remark, that consequences cannot have greater certainty than the postulate from which they are drawn, and that no system can be more hypothetical than this, and, perhaps, no hypothesis more absurd.

[74] He again deceives himself with respect to the perfection with which man is held to be originally vested. "That man came perfect, that is, endued with all possible perfection, out of the hands of his creator, is a false notion derived from the philosophers. — The universal system required subordination, and, consequently, comparative imperfection." That man was ever endued with all possible perfection, that is, with all perfection, of which the idea is not contradictory, or destructive of itself, is, undoubtedly, false. But it can hardly be called a false notion, because no man ever thought it, nor can it be derived from the philosophers; for, without pretending to guess what philosophers he may mean, it is very safe to affirm, that no philosopher ever said it. Of those who now maintain that man was once perfect, who may very easily be found, let the author inquire, whether man was ever omniscient, whether he was ever omnipotent; whether he ever had even the lower power of archangels or angels. Their answers will soon inform him, that the supposed perfection of man was not absolute, but respective; that he was perfect, in a sense consistent enough with subordination, perfect, not as compared with different beings, but with himself in his present degeneracy; not perfect, as an angel, but perfect, as man.

[75] From this perfection, whatever it was, he thinks it necessary that man should be debarred, because pain is necessary to the good of the universe; and the pain of one order of beings extending its salutary influence to innumerable orders above and below, it was necessary that man should suffer; but, because it is not suitable to justice, that pain should be inflicted on innocence, it was necessary that man should be criminal.

[76] This is given as a satisfactory account of the original of moral evil, which amounts only to this, that God created beings, whose guilt he foreknew, in order that he might have proper objects of pain, because the pain of part is, no man knows how or why, necessary to the felicity of the whole.

[77] The perfection which man once had, may be so easily conceived, that, without any unusual strain of imagination, we can figure its revival. All the duties to God or man, that are neglected, we may fancy performed; all the crimes, that are committed, we may conceive forborne. Man will then be restored to his moral perfections; and into what head can it enter, that, by this change, the universal system would be shaken, or the condition of any order of beings altered for the worse?

[78] He comes, in the fifth letter, to political, and, in the sixth, to religious evils. Of political evil, if we suppose the origin of moral evil discovered, the account is by no means difficult; polity being only the conduct of immoral men in publick affairs. The evils of each particular kind of government are very clearly and elegantly displayed, and, from their secondary causes, very rationally deduced; but the first cause lies still in its ancient obscurity. There is, in this letter, nothing new, nor any thing eminently instructive; one of his practical deductions, that "from government, evils cannot be eradicated, and their excess only can be prevented," has been always allowed; the question, upon which all dissension arises, is, when that excess begins, at what point men shall cease to bear, and attempt to remedy.

[79] Another of his precepts, though not new, well deserves to be transcribed, because it cannot be too frequently impressed.

[80] "What has here been said of their imperfections and abuses, is, by no means, intended as a defence of them: every wise man ought to redress them to the utmost of his power; which can be effected by one method only, that is, by a reformation of manners; for, as all political evils derive their original from moral, these can never be removed, until those are first amended. He, therefore, who strictly adheres to virtue and sobriety in his conduct, and enforces them by his example, does more real service to a state, than he who displaces a minister, or dethrones a tyrant: this gives but a temporary relief, but that exterminates the cause of the disease. No immoral man, then, can possibly be a true patriot; and all those who profess outrageous zeal for the liberty and prosperity of their country, and, at the same time, infringe her laws, affront her religion, and debauch her people, are but despicable quacks, by fraud or ignorance increasing the disorders they pretend to remedy."

[81] Of religion he has said nothing but what he has learned, or might have learned, from the divines; that it is not universal, because it must be received upon conviction, and successively received by those whom conviction reached; that its evidences and sanctions are not irresistible, because it was intended to induce, not to compel; and that it is obscure, because we want faculties to comprehend it. What he means by his assertion, that it wants policy, I do not well understand; he does not mean to deny, that a good christian will be a good governour, or a good subject; and he has before justly observed, that the good man only is a patriot.

[82] Religion has been, he says, corrupted by the wickedness of those to whom it was communicated, and has lost part of its efficacy, by its connexion with temporal interest and human passion.

[83] He justly observes, that from all this no conclusion can be drawn against the divine original of Christianity, since the objections arise not from the nature of the revelation, but of him to whom it is communicated.

[84] All this is known, and all this is true; but why, we have not yet discovered. Our author, if I understand him right, pursues the argument thus: the religion of man produces evils, because the morality of man is imperfect; his morality is imperfect, that he may be justly a subject of punishment; he is made subject to punishment, because the pain of part is necessary to the happiness of the whole; pain is necessary to happiness, no mortal can tell why, or how.

[85] Thus, after having clambered, with great labour, from one step of argumentation to another, instead of rising into the light of knowledge, we are devolved back into dark ignorance; and all our effort ends in belief, that for the evils of life there is some good reason, and in confession, that the reason cannot be found. This is all that has been produced by the revival of Chrysippus's untractableness of matter, and the Arabian scale of existence. A system has been raised, which is so ready to fall to pieces of itself, that no great praise can be derived from its destruction. To object, is always easy, and, it has been well observed by a late writer, that "the hand which cannot build a hovel, may demolish a temple."