Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
The Pleasure of the Natural Affections
By Lord Shaftesbury (16711713)
From An Enquiry concerning Virtue
THERE is no one of ever so little understanding in what belongs to a human constitution, who knows not that without action, motion, and employment, the body languishes and is oppressed; its nourishment turns to disease; the spirits, unemployed abroad, help to consume the parts within; and nature, as it were, preys upon herself. In the same manner, the sensible and living part, the soul or mind, wanting its proper and natural exercise, is burdened and diseased. Its thoughts and passions being unnaturally withheld from their due objects, turn against itself, and create the highest impatience and ill-humour.
In brutes and other creatures, who have not the use of reason and reflection (at least not after the manner of mankind) it is so ordered in nature, that by their daily search after food, and their application either towards the business of their livelihood, or the affairs of their species or kind, almost their whole time is taken up, and they fail not to find full employment for their passion, according to that degree of agitation to which they are fitted, and which their constitution requires. If any one of these creatures be taken out of his natural laborious state, and placed amidst such a plenty as can profusely administer to all his appetites and wants; it may be observed that as his circumstances grow thus luxuriant, his temper and passions have the same growth. When he comes, at any time, to have the accommodations of life at a cheaper and easier rate than was at first intended him by nature, he is made to pay dear for them in another way, by losing his natural good disposition, and the orderliness of his kind or species.
This needs not to be demonstrated by particular instances. Whoever has the least knowledge of natural history, or has been an observer of the several breeds of creatures, and their ways of life, and propagation, will easily understand this difference of orderliness between the wild and tame of the same species. The latter acquire new habits, and deviate from their original nature. They lose even the common instinct and ordinary ingenuity of their kind; nor can they ever regain it, whilst they continue in this pampered state; but being turned to shift abroad, they resume the natural affection and sagacity of their species. They learn to unite in stricter fellowship; and grow more concerned for their offspring. They provide against the seasons, and make the most of every advantage given by nature for the support and maintenance of their particular species, against such as are foreign and hostile. And thus as they grow busy and employed, they grow regular and good. Their petulancy and vice forsakes them with their idleness and ease.
It happens with mankind that whilst some are by necessity confined to labour, others are provided with abundance of all things by the pains and labour of inferiors. Now, if amongst the superior and easy sort, there be not something of fit and proper employment raised in the room of what is wanting in common labour and toil; if instead of an application to any sort of work, such as has a good and honest end in society (as letters, sciences, arts, husbandry, public affairs, economy or the like) there be a thorough neglect of all duty or employment, a settled idleness, supineness, and inactivity; this of necessity must occasion a most relaxed and dissolute state: it must produce a total disorder of the passions, and break out in the strangest irregularities imaginable.
We see the enormous growth of luxury in capital cities, such as have been long the seat of empire. We see what improvements are made in vice of every kind, where numbers of men are maintained in lazy opulence, and wanton plenty. It is otherwise with those who are taken up in honest and due employment and have been well inured to it from their youth. This we may observe in the hardy remote provincials, the inhabitants of smaller towns, and the industrious sort of common people; where it is rare to meet with any instances of those irregularities, which are known in courts and palaces, and in the rich foundations of easy and pampered priests.
Now if what we have advanced concerning an inward constitution be real and just; if it be true that Nature works by a just order and regulation as well in the passions and affections as in the limbs and organs which she forms; if it appears withal, that she has so constituted this inward part, that nothing is so essential to it as exercise; and no exercise is so essential as that of social or natural affection: it follows that where this is removed or weakened, the inward part must necessarily suffer and be impaired. Let indolence, indifference, and insensibility be studied as an art, or cultivated with the utmost care; the passions thus restrained will force their prison, and in one way or other procure their liberty, and find full employment. They will be sure to create to themselves unusual and unnatural exercise, where they are cut off from such as is natural and good. And thus in the room of orderly and natural affection, new and unnatural must be raised, and all inward order and economy destroyed.
One must have a very imperfect idea of the order of Nature in the formation and structure of animals, to imagine that so great a principle, so fundamental a part as that of natural affection should possibly be lost or impaired, without any inward ruin or subversion of the temper and frame of mind.
Whoever is the least versed in this moral kind of architecture, will find the inward fabric so adjusted and the whole so nicely built, that the barely extending of a single passion a little too far, or the continuance of it too long, is able to bring irrecoverable ruin and misery. He will find this experienced in the ordinary case of frenzy, and distraction; when the mind, dwelling too long upon one subject (whether prosperous or calamitous), sinks under the weight of it, and proves what the necessity is, of a due balance and counterpoise in the affections. He will find, that in every different creature, and distinct sex, there is a different and distinct order, set, or suit of passions; proportionable to the different order of life, the different functions and capacities assigned to each. As the operations and effects are different, so are the springs and causes in each system. The inside work is fitted to the outward action and performance. So that where habits or affections are dislodged, misplaced, or changed; where those belonging to one species are intermixed with those belonging to another, there must of necessity be confusion and disturbance within.
All this we may observe easily, by comparing the more perfect with the imperfect natures, such as are imperfect from their birth, by having suffered violence within, in their earliest form and inmost matrix. We know how it is with monsters, such as are compounded of different kinds, or different sexes. Nor are they less monsters, who are misshapen or distorted in an inward part. The ordinary animals appear unnatural and monstrous, when they lose their proper instincts, forsake their kind, neglect their offspring, and pervert those functions or capacities bestowed by nature. How wretched must it be, therefore, for MAN, of all other creatures, to lose that sense and feeling, which is proper to him as a man, and suitable to his character and genius? How unfortunate must it be for a creature, whose dependence on society is greater than any others, to lose that natural affection by which he is prompted to the good and interest of his species, and community? Such indeed is mans natural share of this affection, that he, of all other creatures, is plainly the least able to bear solitude. Nor is anything more apparent, than that there is naturally in every man such a degree of social affection as inclines him to seek the familiarity and friendship of his fellows. It is here that he lets loose a passion, and gives reins to a desire, which can hardly by any struggle or inward violence be withheld; or if it be, is sure to create a sadness, dejection, and melancholy in the mind. For whoever is unsociable, and voluntarily shuns society, or commerce with the world, must of necessity be morose and ill-natured. He, on the other side, who is withheld by force or accident, finds in his temper the ill effects of this restraint. The inclination, when suppressed, breeds discontent; and on the contrary affords a healing and enlivening joy, when acting at its liberty, and with full scope: as we may see particularly, when, after a time of solitude and long absence, the heart is opened, the mind disburdened, and the secrets of the breast unfolded to a bosom-friend.
This we see yet more remarkably instanced in persons of the most elevated stations; even in princes, monarchs, and those who seem by their condition to be above ordinary human commerce, and who affect a sort of distant strangeness from the rest of mankind. But their carriage is not the same towards all men. The wiser and better sort, it is true, are often held at a distance; as unfit for their intimacy or secret trust. But, to compensate this, there are others substituted in their room who, though they have the least merit, and are perhaps the most vile and contemptible of men, are sufficient, however, to serve the purpose of an imaginary friendship, and can become favourites in form. These are the subjects of humanity in the Great. For these, we see them often in concern and pain; in these, they easily confide; to these, they can with pleasure communicate their power and greatness, be open, free, generous, confiding, bountiful; as rejoicing in the action itself: having no intention or aim beyond it; and their interest, in respect of policy, often standing a quite contrary way. But where neither the love of mankind, nor the passion for favourites prevails, the tyrannical temper fails not to shew itself in its proper colours, and to the life, with all the bitterness, cruelty, and mistrust, which belong to that solitary and gloomy state of uncommunicative and unfriendly greatness. Nor needs there any particular proof from history, or present time, to second this remark.
Thus it may appear, how much natural affection is predominant; how it is inwardly joined to us, and implanted in our natures; how interwoven with our other passions; and how essential to that regular motion and course of our affections, on which our happiness and self-enjoyment so immediately depend.
And thus we have demonstrated, that as, on one side, to have the natural and good affections is to have the chief means and power of self-enjoyment: so, on the other side, to want them is certain misery and ill.