« AnkstesnisTęsti »
said indifferently, that it is agreeable by the congruity of its parts, or by the proportion of its parts. But propriety, which regards voluntary agents only, can never be the same with proportion: a very long nose is disproportioned, but cannot be termed improper. In some instances, it is true, impropriety coincides with disproportion in the same subject, but never in the same respect. I give for an example a very little man buckled to a long toledo: considering the man and the sword with respect to size, we perceive a disproportion : considering the sword as the choice of the man, we perceive an impropriety.
The sense of impropriety with respect to miftakes, blunders, and absurdities, is happily contrived for the good of mankind. In the spectadors, it is productive of mirth and laughter, excellent recreation in an interval from business. But this is a trifle in respect of what follows. It is painful to be the subject of ridicule ; and to punish with ridicule the man who is guilty of an absurdity, tends to put him more upon his guard in time coming. Thus even the most innocent blunder is not committed with impunity; because, were errors licensed where they do no hurt, inattention would grow into a habit, and be the occafion of much hurt.
The final cause of propriety as to moral duties, is of all the most illustrious. To have a just notion of it, the moral duties that respect others must be distinguished from those that respect
ourselves. Fidelity, gratitude, and the forbearing injury, are examples of the first fort; temperance, modesty, firmness of mind, are examples of the other : the former are made duties by the sense of justice; the latter, by the sense of propriety. Here is a final cause of the sense of propriety, that must rouse our attention. It is undoubtedly the interest of every man, to suit his behaviour to the dignity of his nature, and to the station allotted him by providence ; for such
i rational conduct contributes in every respect to happiness, by preserving health, by procuring plenty, by gaining the esteem of others, and, which of all is the greatest blessing, by gaining a justly-founded self-esteem. But in a matter so essential to our well-being, even felf-interest is not relied on: the powerful authority of duty is fuperadded to the motive of interest. The God of nature, in all things essential to our happiness, hath observed one uniform method: to keep us steady in our conduct, he hath fortified us with natural laws and principles, which prevent many
aberrations, that would daily happen were we totally surrendered to fo fallible a guide as is human reason. Propriety cannot rightly be confidered in another light, than as the natural law that regulates our conduct with respect to ourfelves; as justice is the natural law that regulates our conduct with respect to others. I call propriety a law, not less than justice; because both are equally rules of conduct that ought to be o
bey'd: propriety includes this obligation; for to say an action is proper, is, in other words, to say, that it ought to be performed; and to say it is improper, is, in other words, to say, that it ought to be forborn. It is this very character of ought and Mould that makes justice a law to us; and the same character is applicable to propriety, though perhaps more faintly than to justice : but the difference is in degree only, not in kind; and we ought, without hesitation or reluctance, to submit equally to the government of both.
But I have more to urge upon this head. It must, in the next place, be observed, that to the sense of propriety, as well as of justice, are annexed the fanctions of rewards and punishments; which evidently prove the one to be a law as well as the other. The fatisfaction a man hath in doing his duty, joined with the esteem and goodwill of others, is the reward that belongs to both equally. The punishments also, though not the fame, are nearly allied; and differ in degree more than in quality. Disobedience to the law of justice, is punished with remorse; disobedience to the law of propriety, with shame, which is remorse in a lower degree. Every tranfgression of the law of justice raises indignaţion in the beholder; and so doth every flagrant transgression of the law of propriety. Slighter improprieties receive a milder punishment: they are always rebuked with some degree of contempt, and frequently with derision. In gene
ral, it is true, that the rewards and punishments annexed to the sense of propriety, are slighter in degree than those annexed, to the sense of justice: which is wisely ordered, because duty to others is still more essential to fociety, than duty to ourselves; for society could not fubsist a moment, were individuals not protected from the headstrong and turbulent passions of their neighbours.
The final cause now unfolded of the sense of propriety, must, to every discerning eye, appear delightful: and yet this is but a partial view; for this sense reaches another illustrious end, which is, to co-operate with the sense of justice in inforcing the performance of social duties. In fact, the fanctions visibly contrived to compel a man to be just to himself, are equally serviceable to compel him to be just to others; which will be evident from a single reflection, That an action, by being unjust, ceases not to be improper : an action never appears more eminently improper, than when it is unjust: it is obviously becoming, and suitable to human nature, that each man do his duty to others; and accordingly everytranfgreffion of duty with respect to others, is at the same time a transgression of duty with respect to felf. This is an undisguised truth without exaggeration; and it opens a new and enchanting view in the moral landscape, the prospect being greatly enriched, by the multiplication of agreeable objects. It appears now, that nothing is overlook
ed, nothing left undone, that can possibly contribute to the enforcing social duty; for to all the sanctions that belong to it singly, are superadded the fanctions of self-duty. A familiar example shall fuffice for illustration. An act of ingratitude, considered in itself, is to the author disagreeable, as well as to every spectator : çonsidered by the author with relation to himself, it raises felf-contempt : considered by him with relation to the world, it makes him ashamed : considered by others, it raises their contempt and indignation against the author. These feelings are all of them occasioned by the impropriety of the action. When the action is considered as unjust, it occasions another set of feelings : in the author it produces remorse, and a dread of merited punishment; and in others, the benefactor chiefly, indignation and hatred directed to the ungrateful. person. Thus shame and remorse united in the ungrateful person, and indignation united with hatred in the hearts of others, are the punishments provided by nature for injustice. Stupid and insensible must he be, who, in a contrivance so exquisite, perceives not the hand of the Sovereign Architect.