S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
He will always see the most beauty whose affections are warmest and most exercised, whose imagination is the most powerful, and who has the most accustomed himself to attend to the objects by which he is surrounded.
Young people who have been habitually gratified in all their desires will not only more indulge in capricious desires, but will infallibly take it more amiss when the feelings or happiness of others require that they should be thwarted, than those who have been practically trained to the habit of subduing and restraining them, and consequently will, in general, sacrifice the happiness of others to their own selfish indulgence. To what else is the selfishness of princes and other great people to be attributed? It is in vain to think of cultivating principles of generosity and beneficence by mere exhortation and reasoning. Nothing but the practical habit of overcoming our own selfishness, and of familiarly encountering privations and discomfort on account of others, will ever enable us to do it when required. And therefore I am firmly persuaded that indulgence infallibly produces selfishness and hardness of heart, and that nothing but a pretty severe discipline and control can lay the foundation of a magnanimous character.
Take the case of a common English landscape;green meadows with fat cattle; canals, or navigable rivers; well-fenced, well-cultivated fields; neat, clean, scattered cottages; humble antique church, with church-yard elms; and crossing hedge-rows, all seen under bright skies, and in good weather: there is much beauty, as every one will acknowledge, in such a scene. But in what does the beauty consist? Not, certainly, in the mere mixture of colours and forms; for colours more pleasing, and lines more graceful (according to any theory of grace that may be preferred), might be spread upon a board, or a painters pallet, without engaging the eye to a second glance, or raising the least emotion in the mind; but in the picture of human happiness that is presented to our imaginations and affections,and in the visible and unequivocal signs of comfort, and cheerful and peaceful enjoymentand of that secure and successful industry that insures its continuanceand of the piety by which it is exaltedand of the simplicity by which it is contrasted with the guilt and the fever of a city life,in the images of health and temperance and plenty which it exhibits to every eye, and in the glimpses which it affords to warmer imaginations of those primitive or fabulous times when man was uncorrupted by luxury and ambition; and of those humble retreats in which we still delight to imagine that love and philosophy may find an unpolluted asylum.
Nothing is more delusive, or at least more woefully imperfect, than the suggestions of authentic history, as it is generally or rather universally written; and nothing more exaggerated than the impressions it conveys of the actual state and condition of those who live in its most agitated periods. The great public events of which alone it takes cognizance have but little direct influence upon the body of the people; and do not, in general, form the principal business or happiness or misery even of those who are in some measure concerned in them. Even in the worst and most disastrous timesin periods of civil war and revolution, and public discord and oppression, a great part of the time of a great people is spent in making love and moneyin social amusement or professional industryin schemes for worldly advancement or personal distinction, just as in periods of general peace and prosperity. Men court and marry very nearly as much in the one season as in the other, and are as merry at weddings and christeningsas gallant at balls and racesas busy in their studies and counting-houseseat as heartily, in short, and sleep as soundlyprattle with their children as pleasantlyand thin their plantations and scold their servants as zealously, as if their contemporaries were not furnishing materials thus abundantly for the tragic muse of history. The quiet undercurrent of life, in short, keeps its deep and steady course in its eternal channels, unaffected, or but slightly disturbed, by the storms that agitate its surface; and while long tracts of time in the history of every country seem to the distant student of its annals to be darkened over with one thick and oppressive cloud of unbroken misery, the greater part of those who have lived through the whole acts of the tragedy, will be found to have enjoyed a fair average share of felicity, and to have been much less affected by the shocking events of their day than those who know nothing else of it than that such events took place in its course.
In all his productions the riches of his knowledge and the subtlety and force of his understanding are alike conspicuous; but I am not sure whether his characteristic qualities did not display themselves in a more striking way in his conversation. It was here, at least, that his astonishing memoryastonishing equally for its extent, exactness, and promptitudemade the greatest impression.
Lord Jeffrey: On Sir James Mackintosh: Mackintoshs Life.