’It has been usual to remind Persons of Rank, on great Occasions in Life, of their Race and Quality, and to what Expectations they were born; that by considering what is worthy of them, they may be withdrawn from mean Pursuits, and encouraged to laudable Undertakings. This is turning Nobility into a Principle of Virtue, and making it productive of Merit, as it is understood to have been originally a Reward of it.
’It is for the like reason, I imagine, that you have in some of your Speculations asserted to your Readers the Dignity of Human Nature. But you cannot be insensible that this is a controverted Doctrine; there are Authors who consider Human Nature in a very different View, and Books of Maxims have been written to shew the Falsity of all Human Virtues. The Reflections which are made on this Subject usually take some Tincture from the Tempers and Characters of those that make them. Politicians can resolve the most shining Actions among Men into Artifice and Design; others, who are soured by Discontent, Repulses, or ill Usage, are apt to mistake their Spleen for Philosophy; Men of profligate Lives, and such as find themselves incapable of rising to any Distinction among their Fellow-Creatures, are for pulling down all Appearances of Merit, which seem to upbraid them: and Satirists describe nothing but Deformity. From all these Hands we have such Draughts of Mankind as are represented in those burlesque Pictures, which the Italians call Caracatura’s; where the Art consists in preserving, amidst distorted Proportions and aggravated Features, some distinguishing Likeness of the Person, but in such a manner as to transform the most agreeable Beauty into the most odious Monster.
’It is very disingenuous to level the best of Mankind with the worst, and for the Faults of Particulars to degrade the whole Species. Such Methods tend not only to remove a Man’s good Opinion of others, but to destroy that Reverence for himself, which is a great Guard of Innocence, and a Spring of Virtue.
’It is true indeed that there are surprizing Mixtures of Beauty and Deformity, of Wisdom and Folly, Virtue and Vice, in the Human Make; such a Disparity is found among Numbers of the same Kind, and every Individual, in some Instances, or at some Times, is so unequal to himself, that Man seems to be the most wavering and inconsistent Being in the whole Creation. So that the Question in Morality, concerning the Dignity of our Nature, may at first sight appear like some difficult Questions in Natural Philosophy, in which the Arguments on both Sides seem to be of equal Strength. But as I began with considering this Point as it relates to Action, I shall here borrow an admirable Reflection from Monsieur Pascal, which I think sets it in its proper Light.
’It is of dangerous Consequence, says he, to represent to Man how near he is