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CH A P.
DIGNITY AND GRACE.
HE terms dignity and meanness are ap
plied to man in point of character, fen
timent, and behaviour: we say, for example, of one man, that he hath a natural dignity in his air and manner; of another, that hę makes a mean figure; there is a dignity in every action and sentiment of some persons; the actions and sentiments of others are mean and vulgar. With respect to the fine arts, some performances are said to be manly, and suitable to the dignity of human nature; others are termed low,
Such expressions are common, though they have not always a precise meaning: With respect to the art of criticism, it must be a real acquisition, to ascertain what these terms truly import; which possibly may enable us to rank every performance in the fine arts according to its dignity.
Inquiring first to what subjects the terms dignity and meanness are appropriated, we soon discover, that they are not applicable to any thing inanimate: the most magnificent palace that ever was built, may be lofty, may be grand, but it has no relation to dignity: the most di
minutive shrub may be little, but it is not mean. Thefe terms must belong to sensitive beings, probably to man only; which will be evident when we advance in the inquiry.
Human actions appear in many different lights: in themselves they appear grand or little ; with respect to the author, they appear proper or improper ; with respect to those affected by them, just or unjust: and I now add, that they are also distinguished by dignity and meanness. It may possibly be thought, that with respect to human actions, dignity coincides with grandeur, and meanness with littleness: but the difference will be evident upon reflecting, that we never attribute dignity to any action but what is virtuous, nor meanness to any but what in some degree is faulty; and accordingly an action may be grand without being virtuous; or little without being faulty. Every action of dignity creates respect and esteem for the author; and a mean action draws upon him contempt. A man is always admired for a grand action, but frequently is neither loved nor esteemed for it: neither is a man always contemned for a low or little action. The action of Cæsar passing the Rubicon was grand; but there was no dignity in it, considering that his purpose was to enslave his country: Cæsar, in a march, taking the opportunity of a rivulet to quench his thirst, did a low action, but the action was not mean. As it appears to me, dignity and meanness are VOL.I. Y
founded on a natural principle not formerly mentioned. Man is endued with a SENSE of the worth and excellence of his nature: he deems it more perfect than that of the other beings around him; and he perceives, that the perfection of his nature consists in virtue, particularly in virtue of the highest rank. To express this fense, the terni dignity is appropriated. Further, to behave with dignity, and to refrain from all mean actions, is felt to be, not a virtue only, but a duty: it is a duty every man owes to himself. By acting in this manner, he attracts love and esteem : by acting meanly, or below himself, he is disapproved and contemned.
According to the description here given of dignity and meanness, they appear to be a species of propriety and impropriety. Many actions may be proper or improper, to which dignity or meanness cannot be applied : to eat when one is hungry is proper, but there is no dignity in this action : revenge fairly taken, if against law, is improper, but not mean. But every action of dignity is also proper, and every mean action is also improper.
This sense of the dignity of human nature, reaches even our pleasures and amusements: if they enlarge the mind by raising grand or elevated emotions, or if they humanize the mind by exercising our fympathy, they are approved as suited to the dignity of our nature : if they contract the mind by fixing it on trivial objects,
they are contemned as not suited to the dignity. of our nature. Hence in general, every occupa- . tion, whether of use or amusement, that corresponds to the dignity of inan, obtains the epitliet.. of manly; and every occupation below his nature, obtains the epithet of childiso.
To those who study human nature, there is a point which has always appeared intricate. How comes it that generosity and courage are more va-, lued, and bestow more dignity, than good-nature, or even justice; though the latter contribute more than the former, to private as well as to public happiness? This question bluntly propofed, might puzzle a cunning philofopher ; but, by means of the foregoing observations, will easily be solved. Humạn virtues, like other objećts, obtain a rank in our estimation, not from their utility, which is a subject of reflection, but from the direct impression they make on us. Justice and good-nature are a fort of negative virtues, that scarce make any impression but when they are transgressed: courage and generosity, on the contrary, producing elevated emotions, enliven greatly the sense of a man's dignity, both in himself and in others; and for that reason, courage and generosity are in higher regard than the other virtues mentioned: we describe them as grand and elevated, as of greater dignity, and more praise-worthy.
This leads us more directly to examine emotions and passions with respect to the present
subject : and it will not be difficult to form a scale of them, beginning at the meanest, and ascending gradually to those of the highest rank and dignity. Pleasure felt as at the organ of sense, named corporeal pleasure, is perceived to be low; and when indulged to excefs, is perceived also to be mean: for that reason, persons of any delicacy, dissemble the pleasure they have in eating and drinking. The pleasures of the eye and ear, which haye no organic feeling *, being free from any sense of meanness, are indulged without
any shame: they even arise to a certain degree of dignity, when their objects are grand or elevated. The same is the case of the sympathetic passions : a virtuous person behaving with fortitude and dignity under cruel misfortunes, makes a capital figure; and the sympathising fpectator feels in himself the fame dignity. Sympathetic distress at the same time never is mean: on the contrary, it is agreeable to the nature of a social being, and has' the general approbation. The rank that love possesses in this scale, depends in a great measure on its object: it possesses a low place, when founded on external properties merely; and is mean, when bestowed upon a person of an inferior rank without any extraordinary qualification : but when founded on the more elevated internal properties, it assumes a considerable degree of dignity. The same is the
See the Introduction,