S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Man is a creature designed for two different states of being, or rather for two different lives. His first life is short and transient, his second permanent and lasting. The question we are all concerned in is this, in which of these two lives it is our chief interest to make ourselves happy? Or, in other words, whether we should endeavour to secure to ourselves the pleasures and gratifications of a life which is uncertain and precarious, and at its utmost length of a very inconsiderable duration: or to secure to ourselves the pleasures of a life which is fixed and settled, and will never end? Every man upon the first hearing of this question knows very well which side of it he ought to close with. But, however right we are in theory, it is plain that in practice we adhere to the wrong side of the question. We make provisions for this life as though it were never to have an end, and for the other life as though it were never to have a beginning.
A great number of living and thinking particles could not possibly, by their mutual contact, and pressing, and striking, compose one great individual animal with one mind and understanding, and a vital consension of the whole body; any more than a swarm of bees, or a crowd of men and women, can be conceived to make up one particular living creature, compounded and constituted of the aggregate of them all.
We have certain demonstration from Egyptian mummies, and Roman urns and rings, and measures and edifices, and many other antiquities, that human stature has not diminished for above two thousand years.
Man is an animal formidable both from his passions and his reason; his passions often urging him to great evils, and his reason furnishing means to achieve them. To train this animal, and make him amenable to order, to inure him to a sense of justice and virtue, to withhold him from ill courses by fear, and encourage him in his duty by hopes; in short, to fashion and model him for society, hath been the aim of civil and religious institutions; and, in all times, the endeavour of good and wise men. The aptest method for attaining this end hath been always judged a proper education.
Men are not the same through all divisions of their ages: time, experience, self-reflections, and Gods mercies, make in some well-tempered minds a kind of translation before death, and men to differ from themselves as well as from other persons. Hereof the old world afforded many examples to the infamy of latter ages, wherein men too often live by the rule of their inclinations; so that, without any astral prediction, the first day gives the last: men are commonly as they were; or rather, as bad dispositions run into worser habits, the evening doth not crown, but sourly conclude, the day.
I considered how little man is, yet, in his own mind, how great! He is lord and master of all things, yet scarce can command anything. He is given a freedom of his will; but wherefore? Was it but to torment and perplex him the more? How little avails this freedom, if the objects he is to act upon be not as much disposed to obey as he is to command! What well-laid and what better executed scheme of his is there but what a small change of nature is sufficient to defeat and entirely abolish? If but one element happens to encroach a little on the other, what confusion may it not create in his affairs! what havoc! what destruction! The servant destined to his use confines, menaces, and frequently destroys this mighty, this feeble lord.
It is not wholly unworthy of observation, that Providence, which strongly appears to have intended the continual intermixture of mankind, never leaves the human mind destitute of a principle to effect it. This purpose is sometimes carried on by a sort of migratory instinct, sometimes by the spirit of conquest; at one time avarice drives men from their homes, at another they are actuated by a thirst of knowledge; where none of these causes can operate, the sanctity of particular places attracts men from the most distant quarters.
But, my Lords, men are made of two parts,the physical part, and the moral. The former he has in common with the brute creation. Like theirs, our corporeal pains are very limited and temporary. But the sufferings which touch our moral nature have a wider range, and are infinitely more acute, driving the sufferer sometimes to the extremities of despair and distraction. Man, in his moral nature, becomes, in his progress through life, a creature of prejudice, a creature of opinions, a creature of habits, and of sentiments growing out of them. These form our second nature, as inhabitants of the country and members of the society in which Providence has placed us. This sensibility of our moral nature is far more acute in that sex which, I may say without any compliment, forms the better and more virtuous part of mankind, and which is at the same time protected from the insults and outrages to which this sensibility exposes them. This is a new source of feelings, that often make corporeal distress doubly felt; and it has a whole class of distresses of its own.
Every sort of moral, every sort of civil, every sort of politic institution, aiding the rational and natural ties that connect the human understanding and affections to the divine, are not more than necessary, in order to build up that wonderful structure, Man,whose prerogative it is, to be in a great degree a creature of his own making, and who, when made as he ought to be made, is destined to hold no trivial place in the creation.
Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790.
His sentiments with regard to them can never vary, without subjecting him to the just indignation of mankind, who are bound, and are generally disposed, to look up with reverence to the best patterns of their species, and such as give a dignity to the nature of which we all participate.
How is it possible that it should enter into the thoughts of vain man to believe himself the principal part of Gods creation; or that all the rest was ordained for him, for his service or pleasure? Man, whose follies we laugh at every day, or else complain of them; whose pleasures are vanity, and his passions stronger than his reason; who sees himself every way weak and impotent; hath no power over external nature, little over himself; cannot execute so much as his own good resolutions; mutable, irregular, prone to evil. Surely, if we made the least reflection upon ourselves with impartiality, we should be ashamed of such an arrogant thought. How few of these sons of men, for whom, they say, all things were made, are the sons of wisdom! how few find the paths of life! They spend a few days in folly and sin, and then go down to the regions of death and misery. And is it possible to believe that all nature, and all Providence, are only, or principally, for their sake? Is it not a more reasonable character or conclusion which the prophet hath made, Surely every man is vanity?
The essence of our being, the mystery in us that calls itself I,ah, what words have we for such things?is a breath of Heaven; the Highest Being reveals himself in man. This body, these faculties, this life of ours, is it not all as a vesture for that Unnamed? There is but one temple in the universe, says the devout Novalis, and that is the body of man. Nothing is holier than that high form. Bending before men is a reverence done to this revelation in the flesh. We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body! This sounds much like a mere flourish of rhetoric; but it is not so. If well meditated, it will turn out to be a scientific fact; the expression, in such words as can be had, of the actual truth of the thing. We are the miracle of miracles,the great inscrutable mystery of God. We cannot understand it, we know not how to speak of it; but we feel and know, if we like, that it is verily so.
Mans twofold nature is reflected in history. He is of earth, but his thoughts are with the stars. Mean and petty his wants and his desires; yet they serve a soul exalted with grand, glorious aims, with immortal longings, with thoughts which sweep the heavens, and wander through eternity. A pigmy standing on the outward crust of this small planet, his far-reaching spirit stretches outward to the infinite, and there alone finds rest. History is a reflex of this double life. Every epoch has two aspectsone calm, broad, and solemnlooking towards eternity; the other agitated, petty, vehement, and confusedlooking towards time.
It is not to taste sweet things, but to do noble and true things, and vindicate himself under Gods heaven as a God-made man, that the poorest son of Adam dimly longs. Show him the way of doing that, the dullest day-drudge kindles into a hero. They wrong man greatly who say he is to be seduced by ease. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death, are the allurements that act on the heart of man. Kindle the inner genial life of him, you have a flame that burns up all lower considerations. Not happiness, but something higher: one sees this even in the frivolous classes, with their point of honour and the like. Not by flattering our appetites; no: by awakening the heroic that slumbers in every heart, can any religion gain followers.
The grandeur of mans nature turns to insignificance all outward distinctions. His powers of intellect, of conscience, of love, of knowing God, of perceiving the beautiful, of acting on his own mind, on outward nature, and on his fellow-creatures,these are glorious prerogatives. Through the vulgar error of undervaluing what is common, we are apt, indeed, to pass them by as of but little worth. But as in the outward creation, so in the soul, the common is the most precious. Science and art may invent splendid modes of illuminating the apartments of the opulent; but these are all poor and worthless compared with the light which the sun sends into our windows, which he pours freely, impartially, over hill and valley, which kindles daily the eastern and western sky; and so the common lights of reason, and conscience, and love, are of more worth and dignity than the rare endowments which give celebrity to a few.
Man, the noblest creature upon earth, hath a beginning. No man in the world but was some years ago no man. If every man we see had a beginning, then the first man also had a beginning, then the world had a beginning: for the earth, which was made for the use of man, had wanted that end for which it was made. We must pitch upon some one man that was unborn; that first man must either be eternal; that cannot be, for he that hath no beginning hath no end; or must spring out of the earth as plants and trees do; that cannot be: why should not the earth produce men to this day, as it doth plants and trees? He was therefore made; and whatsoever is made hath some cause that made it, which is God.
If every man had a beginning, every man then was once nothing; he could not then make himself, because nothing cannot be the cause of something; The Lord he is God; he hath made us, and not we ourselves (Ps. c. iii.) Whatsoever begun in time was not; and when it was nothing, it had nothing, and could do nothing; and therefore could never give to itself, nor to any other, to beor to be able to do: for then it gave what it had not, and did what it could not. Since reason must acknowledge a first of every kind, a first man, etc., it must acknowledge him created and made, not by himself: why have not other men since risen up by themselves, not by chance? why hath not chance produced the like in that long time the world hath stood? If we never knew anything give being to itself, how can we imagine anything ever could?
That which hath power to give itself being cannot want power to preserve that being. Preservation is not more difficult than creation. If the first man made himself, why did he not preserve himself? He is not now among the living in the world. How came he to be so feeble as to sink into the grave? Why did he not inspire himself with new heat and moisture, and fill his languishing limbs and declining body with new strength?
It is a folly to deny that which a mans own nature witnesseth to him. The whole frame of bodies and souls bears the impress of the infinite power and wisdom of the Creator: a body framed with an admirable architecture, a soul endowed with understanding, will, judgment, memory, imagination. Man is the epitome of the world, contains in himself the substance of all natures, and the fulness of the whole universe; not only in regard of the universalness of his knowledge, whereby he comprehends the reasons of many things; but as all the perfections of the several natures of the world are gathered and united in man, for the perfection of his own, in a smaller volume. In his soul he partakes of heaven, in his body of the earth. There is the life of plants, the sense of beasts, and the intellectual nature of angels.
Ferguson states that the history of mankind, in their rudest state, may be considered under two heads, viz., that of the savage, who is not yet acquainted with property, and that of the barbarian, to whom it is, although not ascertained by laws, a principal object of care and desire.
Can it be possible that man, a human form, to whom homage is paid both by animal and vegetable; the focus of ingenuity; the wonderful exposition of cause and effect; the living poem of perfect measure; the mechanical wonder of the world; was born and created to grow; and, having done his best to injure or benefit mankind, he, a perfect score in the plan of creation, shall cease to exist when the body sinks; and the soul stained with sin shall meet with no just punishment, when laws against sin govern this world? Or, if he has raised the lowly, forgiven the erring, and relieved the suffering and needy relative, is he to be blotted out, even as a worm is trodden down, and reap the benefit of no approving conscience?
S. W. Francis, M.D.: Curious Facts in Man and Nature, Part Second, 1875, 25.
Man may be considered in two views, as a reasonable and as a sociable being; capable of becoming himself either happy or miserable, and of contributing to the happiness or misery of his fellow-creatures. Suitably to this double capacity, the Contriver of human nature hath wisely furnished it with two principles of action, self-love and benevolence; designed one of them to render man wakeful to his own personal interest, the other to dispose him for giving his utmost assistance to all engaged in the same pursuit.
The due contemplation of the human nature doth, by a necessary connection and chain of causes, carry us up to the unavoidable acknowledgment of the Deity; because it carries every thinking man to an original of every successive individual.
It is the moral relation which man is supposed to bear to a superior power, the awful idea of accountability, the influence which his present dispositions and actions are conceived to have upon his eternal destiny, more than any superiority of intellectual powers abstracted from these considerations, which invest him with such mysterious grandeur, and constitute the firmest guard on the sanctuary of human life.
This conviction of a common defect applying in different stages and degrees to every rate of capacity or accomplishment, should naturally beget a fraternity of feeling, and make even the most ambitious or prosperous still feel himself to be a man with his fellow-men,and not deport himself as a god who has condescended to walk among men, but who is not of them,to tread the path they tread, but not to share in their sorrows or short-comings. And be it remembered that even of the godlike the conception just announced has more in it of heathen prejudice than of Christian sentiment.
In order to love mankind, expect but little from them; in order to view their faults without bitterness, we must accustom ourselves to pardon them, and to perceive that indulgence is a justice which frail humanity has a right to demand from wisdom. Now, nothing tends more to dispose us to indulgence, to close our hearts against hatred, to open them to the principles of a humane and soft morality, than a profound knowledge of the human heart. Accordingly, the wisest men have always been the most indulgent.
Let us then for once consider a man alone, without foreign assistance, armd only with his own proper arms, and unfurnished of the divine grace and wisdom, which is all his honour, strength, and the foundation of his being. Let us see what certainty he has in his fine equipage. Let him make me understand by the force of his reason upon what foundation he has built those great advantages he thinks he has over creatures: who has made him believe that this admirable motion of the celestial arch, the eternal light of those tapers that roll over his head, the wonderful motions of that infinite ocean, should be established, and continue so many ages, for his service and convenience? Can anything be imagined so ridiculous, that this miserable and wretched creature, who is not so much as master of himself, but subject to the injuries of all things, should call himself master and emperor of the world, of which he has not power to know the least part, much less to command the whole? And this privilege which he attributes to himself of being the only creature in this vast fabrick that has the understanding to discover the beauty and the parts of it; the only one who can return thanks, and keep account of the revenues and disbursements of the world; who, I wonder, seald him this patent? Let us see his commission for this great employment. Was it granted in favour of the wise only? Few people will be concerned in it. Are fools and wicked persons worthy so extraordinary a favour? And being the worst part of the world, to be preferred before the rest?
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lxix.
What a chimera is man! what a confused chaos! what a subject of contradiction! a professed judge of all things, and yet a feeble worm of the earth! the great depository and guardian of truth, and yet a mere huddle of uncertainty! the glory and the scandal of the universe!
It is of dangerous consequence to represent to man how near he is to the level of beasts, without showing him at the same time his greatness. It is likewise dangerous to let him see his greatness without his meanness. It is more dangerous yet to leave him ignorant of either; but very beneficial that he should be made sensible of both.
Man is made for reflection; hence all his dignity and value. His dignity consists in the right direction of his mind, and the exercise of his intellect in the study of himself, his Author, and his end. But what is the mental occupation of the world at large? Never this; but diversion, wealth, fame, power; without regard to the essential duties of intellectual man. The human intellect is most admirable in its nature; it must have strange defects to make it despicable; and, in fact, it has so many and so great, as to be supremely contemptible. How great is it in itself, how mean in its corruptions! There is in man a continual conflict between his reason and his passions. He might enjoy tranquillity to a certain extent, were he mastered by either of these singly. If he had reason without passion, or passion without reason, he might have some degree of peace; but, possessing both, he is in a state of perpetual warfare: for peace with one is war with the other: he is divided against himself. If it be an unnatural blindness to live without inquiring into our true constitution and condition, it proves a hardness yet more dreadful to believe in God and live in sin.
What a piece of worke is a man! how Noble in Reason? how infinite in faculty? in forme and mouing how expresse and admirable? in Action, how like an Angel? in apprehension, how like a God? the beauty of the world, the Parragon of Animals.
William Shakspeare: Hamlet, Actus Secundus, Scena Secunda, First Folio, 1623.
On examining how I, that could contribute nothing to mine own being, should be here, I come to ask the same question for my father, and so am led in a direct line to a first producer that must be more than man.
Other things, then, being equal, an honest man has this advantage over a knave, that he understands more of human nature: for he knows that one honest man exists, and concludes that there must be more; and he also knows, if he is not a mere simpleton, that there are some who are knavish; but the knave can seldom be brought to believe in the existence of an honest man. The honest man may be deceived in particular persons, but the knave is sure to be deceived whenever he comes across an honest man who is not a mere fool.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Cunning.
The heavens do indeed declare the glory of God, and the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made; but Man, considered not merely as an organized Being, but as a rational agent, and as a member of society, is perhaps the most wonderfully contrived, and to us the most interesting, specimen of divine Wisdom that we have any knowledge of.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms, etc.