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Thus, as long as our activity is confined to mere labour, as long as it is confined to industry, skill, dexterity, and intelligence, it can neither be moral nor immoral; whether our labours are governed by one unchanging routine, or are in a state of progressive amelioration, they are equally destitute of morality. We may say of an ingenious workman that he is clever, but that does not mean that he is moral; of an orator, that he is eloquent ; of a professor, that he is a man of talent, but we do not say that they are moral. Once more, we repeat, this qualification is only applicable to those of our actions which relate to the conduct of life.
Again, with respect to conduct, we must observe, that it is not moral while a man's resolves are purely instinctive, and so long as he only follows the impulses of desire, passion, and feeling. Indeed, it is well known that the best feelings may lead a man to do wrong. It is possible that love, friendship, and paternal tenderness may induce a man to commit bad actions : much more then would those feelings which are usually connected with terms of dispraise, such as self-love, hatred, anger, pride or avarice, if he gave himself up to their impulses, lead a man to that which is criminal; though even these feelings are capable of producing happy effects if well directed. In general, our affections, which are almost all good, and worthy of being cherished as stimulants and moving powers, are of no value as directors; and a line of conduct which is only governed by feeling, is very far from deserving the name of moral, as there is no one of our feelings, even amongst the most pure and sympathetic, which does not indispensably require to be regulated.
Further, a man's conduct is not called moral, simply because his feeling is enlightened by intelligence. He must doubtless learn to know what is good before he is capable of doing good ; but, because he learns to know it, it does not follow that he is able to practise it. Demonstrate to a man as much as you please that virtue consists in a certain line of conduct, it is still very doubtful if he will follow it: it is highly probable that, although he knows what is right, he will continue to do wrong Such is the effect of the disposition of the greater part of mankind.
We know what a wide difference there is between an educated man and a virtuous man, between a man who merely knows what morality is and a moral man; and how much remains for us to do in order to become honest and honourable men, after we have perfectly understood in what honour and honesty consist.
Our conduct, therefore, is not moral so long as we live under the dominion of feeling, because our feelings are liable to lead us astray every moment; nor does it become so by merely enlightening the understanding, for knowledge in the understanding does not necessarily excite the faculties or the heart, and the perception of that which is good does not always give strength to do it. We only become moral men when we accustom our affections and talents to be directed by reason. It is a work that stands alone, a work totally different from that which has for its object the awakening of our sensibility, and from that which tends to perfect our knowledge: for the artist excites our feelings in vain, if he does not teach us the knowledge of what is good ; and the philosopher enlightens us in vain, if he does not accustom us to practise it. It is absolutely necessary that, while art moves our feelings, and science instructs our understanding, another kind of labour should teach us to submit our passions to the counsels of reason.
Such is properly, or such at least ought to be, the object of that art which proposes to make us acquire good moral habits. Practical morality certainly requires that our sensibility should be awakened, and our intelligence perfected, for virtue is only composed of feeling and reason; but the grand point, which is totally distinct from the two former, consists in accustoming our feeling faculties to act consistently with what is taught by our intellectual faculties; it consists in making us acquire, by certain exercises, the habit of coming to a good resolution, just as art and philosophy consist in accustoming us, also by practice, the one to have a nice perception, and the other to exercise a sound judgment.
We may observe in society several classes of persons and professions, who labour, or have attempted to labour, for the formation of morals. This is, or ought to be, one of the principal objects of domestic education, and of that of schools. This also is the principal object that should be aimed at by those who profess to teach of things relating to a future life; those who, under all systems of religion, devote themselves to the office of the priesthood. Indeed, government has no duty more imperative, no task more important, than that of forming the morals of the people; and if the immediate object of its intervention is to settle quarrels, to put a stop to or remedy disorders, its true and final duty is to prevent all these evils by endeavouring to correct the vicious habits which produce them.
But to return to our subject : moral instruction we consider to be an integral and essential part of all education.
The first thing that strikes us in the present day, when we reflect upon domestic education, and especially that of schools in their relation to the formation of
morals, is either the total want of such schools, or their insufficiency with reference to this object.
We do not speak of a speculative and purely intellectual inculcation of morality. We do not say that the education which is obtained in boarding-schools entirely neglects to instruct us in what we ought to do, and what we ought to avoid. It is quite true that our memory is charged with the names of a great many vices and virtues, and that we are told something of the evils which result from vice, and the happiness which proceeds from virtue, with the motives which we have for abstaining from the one, and for practising the other. But this instruction is extremely imperfect. Many actions are recommended as good, which are indifferent or really bad: many motives are assigned to good actions, which are either insufficient or vicious. This mode of instruction, however, does exist, and, right or wrong, we exercise our talents on morality in the same way that we exercise them on a multitude of other subjects. But it is only our talents that we thus exercise. It is, if you please, a part of the education of the understanding, a branch of a course of philosophy, but it is nothing more; the impressions we receive in relation to this do not extend to our will; we are not taught to practise the good which we are taught to comprehend; in a word, the great thing that education neglects is the formation of character and morals.
This neglect is so apparent, that it is difficult not to perceive it; but it becomes particularly striking when we consider the care bestowed upon our other faculties. How many arts are occupied in preserving and bringing to perfection our physical and intellectual powers! What a variety of exercises are given to our talents! What a length of time devoted to their culture! The understanding of a youth is kept fully exercised for twelve or fourteen hours a day: he is made to go through a course of Greek, Latin, elocution, logic, mathematics, chemistry, natural philosophy, &c. But while whole days are given to the exercise of his understanding, scarcely a moment is employed in educating his will. It is the same with girls. What are they not taught in the present day! Masters of every description strive to fix in their memories all kinds of knowledge, and to impart to their bodies and limbs graceful forms and an easy carriage ; but we can hardly say that they form their hearts to the practice of a single virtue. The education we receive in schools may perhaps teach us to discuss the precepts of morality ; but we can hardly say that it teaches us to observe them. We learn how to argue, not how to live.
“We wait till our life has passed away,” says Montaigne,“ to learn how to live ;” and he adds" Le soing et la despense de nos pères ne visent qu'à nous meubler la teste de science, et pour ce qui est de la vertu, peu de nouvelles. Criez d'un passant, ô le savant homine! et d'un autre, ô le bon homme! Notre peuple ne manquera pas de tourner ses yeux et son esprit vers le premier." “ Diogène pourrait encore se moquer des musiciens qui savent accorder leurs flutes et qui ne savent pas accorder leurs mæurs ; des orateurs qui s'escriment à disputer sur la justice, et qui sont incapables de la pratiquert." "Me veulx-je armer contre la crainte de la mort ? C'est aux despens de Seneca. Veulx-je tirer de la consolation pour moy ou pour un aultre ? Je l'emprunte de Cicero. Je l’eusse prinsse en moy-mesme si l'on m'y eust exercét."
Essais, tom. i. ch. 24,-Du Mélaniisme,