Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

portant truth! Look at those who are overwhelmed with distress of every kind ; seek the cause, the origin of their sorrows, and thou wilt discover that almost invariably they were themselves the authors of them. Thou wilt thus learn to avoid most of the evils by which the rest of mankind are tormented.

The consideration of mistakes warns us to judge by the reality, not the appearance of things, to penetrate into the interior of them, if I may be allowed the expression, and not to stop at the bark and the outside.

How many men, thrown amid the tempests of revolutions into adverse parties and under hostile banners, have been ready to 'cut one another's throats, who had in reality one and the same object, but misconceived each other's views; who were equally solicitous for the prosperity of their country, but imagined that they discovered it, some of them in a particular form of governinent, the advantages of which they considered exclusively; others in a different form: these in the selection or elevation, those in the disgrace and fall of such and such persons.

Their hearts really harmonized and tended by means of a secret instinct to one common end, the public interest, which is composed of the union

of all the private interests, well understood and duly calculated : but their understandings, not being rightly directed, were lost in a labyrinth of false and crude opinions, which were destitute of points of support, which did not spring out of one another, which were not connected together by a continuous chain, and were not pointed to a particular end. These baneful misconceptions soon gave birth to ferocious passions; and, for want of a mutual understanding, they devoted each other to proscription and death.

In revolutions, in factions, in societies, there is always a mixture of the good and the bad; and it is generally in consequence of strange mistakes that they are associated together. We ought never to generalize, but to respect varieties and shades in opinions, to examine with care such as we purpose to adopt; not merely to look at a thing in profile, or only on one side, but first on one side, then on another, then in front, and by turns in every point of view, In this manner we qualify ourselves to form sound opinions, to appreciate causes, to calculate effects, and to perceive and seize all the intermediate and successive links of the chain which unites them.

The constant observation and due consideration of mistakes necessarily leads a man to the senti

ments of toleration and indulgence, with which an elevated mind, that soars above the thick and contagious atmosphere of vulgar opinions, inspires a generous heart. Prudence, or the art of governing ourselves, and of judging with discernment and impartiality of men and things, likewise results from the application of this truth.

Men in general are not naturally wicked ;* but they are anxious to promote their personal interest, and sometimes pursue it to the injury of others. It is the effect of a real mistake, which education, morality, and legislation, ought in the first instance to prevent, but which afterwards it is right to repress and punish, if it leads to pemicious and criminal actions.

“ Virtue,” says Young, “is true self-interest pursued”_" 'tis virtue to pursue our good supreme.” Nothing, therefore, but mistakes can cause us to deviate from the path of virtue and happiness.

* There certainly are exceptions. Some persons are born with really wicked or vicious dispositions. The difference of innate characters is equally incontestable with that of constitutions and understandings. It is necessary to observe a due medium between the system of Helvetius, which attributes every thing to education, and that of Dr. Gall, which is censured for allowing it too little influence.


" And what is vice?” exclaims the same philosophic poet“Self-love in a mistake.” In another place he describes it as mere want of compass in our thought.”

Vir malus puer robustusthe bad man is a headstrong child.* The man who has the strength requisite for doing evil, without possessing sufficient intelligence to perceive that the evil which he does must necessarily recoil upon himself, is for this very reason a child, the real sport, dupe, and victim of a mistake, the result of ignorance and error.

Morals, the social relations, habits, studies, the arts and sciences, the physical, moral, intellectual, social, and political world, furnish then alike useful and numerous applications of the law of the univer: sal mixture of good and evil, and of the particular consideration of mistakes, which is one of the keys to the human mind; a beacon to enlighten and keep it on its guard, amid the tempestuous ocean of errors, prejudices, and passions; a compass and a guide; a point of support, and a medium of direction in study and in the conduct of life.

Mistakes are prejudices, or false and hasty opinions, errors of which the human mind rids itself much more easily than may be imagined, if it seeks truth with sincerity, with an upright heart and pure intentions, which enlighten and rectify the judgment. The grand and fertile idea, that all crimes are real mistakes, mistakes of the mind, which mislead and corrupt the heart, is a moral and philosophic basis, in common life and in society, in legislation, in politics, and in the sciences, and tends to dispose men continually to the search after and love of truth, and to the practice of virtue.

* Hobbes.




All Inconveniences and Obstacles may be conderted

into Elements and Means of Success.

The law of obstacles converted into means of success springs, like the particular consideration of mistakes, froin the law of the universal mixture of good and evil. Since every thing is compounded of good and evil, we ought, whenever we meet with a difficulty or an obstacle, to study how to overcome it, for the purpose of converting it into a medium of success. This is one of the

« AnteriorContinuar »