Page images
PDF
EPUB

those he has himself perpetrated, he becomes afraid of the punishment he would himself have inflicted. Thus, inftigated by his fears, and, imagining himself univerfally hated, he conceives a fentiment of univerfal hatred: and, as his fears are exactly proportioned to his feelings and fenfibility, fo are his hatred and malevolence. In like manner, a man of no fenfibility, of little beneficence, and posfeffing no high idea of focial obligation, carried by his avarice or his ambition to commit acts of injustice, and having no lively conceptions, from his own feelings, of the refentment he has excited, will, confequently, be less afraid of mankind, and of course, lefs violent in his hatred. It follows, that, in the circumstances of having procured undue poffeffions by inhuman means, and of defiring to preserve them, men of innate fenfibility will be more cruel and fanguinary, than men naturally fevere, rugged, and infenfible.

May

May not these observations unravel a feeming difficulty in the hiftories of Sylla, and Auguftus, of Nero, and of Herod? Sylla and Auguftus, naturally fevere, having attained the fummit of their defires, had no imaginary apprehenfions of punishment, and ended their days in peace. Nero and Herod, naturally of foft and amiable difpofitions, betrayed by unruly paffions, committed acts of cruelty, were confcious of their crimes, dreaded the refentment they deserved, and, in order to avoid it, became infamous and inhuman. By confidering Sylla and Auguftus in this light, fome extraordinary circumftances in their conduct, much celebrated by fome modern writers, namely the refignation of the dictatorship by the one, and the apparent clemency of the other, after he arofe to the imperial dignity, seem divefted of their merit; and, without having recourfe to moderate or magnanimous fentiments, may eafily be explained, as being

being perfectly confonant to the general tone of their characters. Sylla refigned the dictatorship, without any dread of fuffering punishment for his antecedent cruelties, not because he had extirpated all those he had injured, but because his fenfibility and his power of difcerning moral excellence being originally languid, he felt no abhorrence of his own, ferocity; and therefore, incapable of conceiving how any but real fufferers fhould feel or resent his barbarity, he was incapable of apprehenfion. Auguftus, naturally of an unfeeling temper, committed inhuman actions in pursuing the honours he afpired to, and having established his authority as abfolutely and as independently as he wifhed for, he had no fenfe of his former inhumanity, had no regret for the paft, and no fear of the future. Reasoning on the fame principles, we may eafily reconcile fome appearances of benignity and tender affection in the conduct of Nero and

and of Herod, to their natural and original difpofitions. That, in the early part of their lives, they difcovered gentle and benign affections, is unqueftioned. But their fubfequent cruelties, and particularly, those related by ecclefiaftical writers, have led men, indignant of their crimes, to pronounce them, in the very ftructure and conftitution of their minds, monftrous and inhuman. Thus, from exceffive refentment and indignation, we leffen the enormity of their guilt, charging that ferocity upon nature, which was the effect of their own impetuous and ungoverned passions. Senfibility is in itfelf amiable, and difposes us to benevolence: but, in corrupted minds, by infufing terror, it produces hatred and inhumanity. So dangerous is the dominion of vice, that being eftablished in the mind, it bends to its baneful purposes even the principles of virtue. Lady Macbeth, of a character invariably favage, perhaps too favage to be a genuine

repre

2

representation of nature *, proceeds eafily, and without reluctance, to the contrivance of the blackest crimes. Macbeth, of a fofter temper, and full of the "milk of "human kindness," ftruggles, and is reluctant. Lady Macbeth encourages and incites him. He commits the deed, trembles, and is filled with horror. Lady Macbeth enjoys perfect composure, is neither fhocked nor terrified, and reproves him for his fears.

Why, worthy Thane,

Do
you unbend your noble ftrength to think
So brain-fickly of things?-
My hands are of your colour, but I fcorn
To wear a heart fo white.

[ocr errors]

Macbeth, inftigated by his apprehenfions, meditates another act of barbarity. Lady Macbeth, so far from being afraid of confequences, or from having contrived another affaffination, is even ignorant of his intentions; but on being informed of them, the very easily acquiefces.

* Elements of criticism,

« PreviousContinue »