S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
A person, therefore, who is possessed with such an habitual good intention, as that which I have been here speaking of, enters upon no single circumstance of life, without considering it as well pleasing to the great Author of his being, conformable to the dictates of reason, suitable to human nature in general, or to that particular station in which Providence has placed him. He lives in a perpetual sense of the Divine Presence, regards himself as acting, in the whole course of his existence, under the observation and inspection of that Being, who is privy to all his motions and all his thoughts, who knows his down-sitting and his uprising, who is about his path, and about his bed, and spieth out all his ways. In a word, he remembers that the eye of his Judge is always upon him, and in every action he reflects that he is doing what is commanded or allowed by Him who will hereafter either reward or punish it. This was the character of those holy men of old, who, in that beautiful phrase of Scripture, are said to have walked with God.
There are many virtues which in their own nature are incapable of any outward representation; many silent perfections in the soul of a good man, which are great ornaments to human nature, but not able to discover themselves to the knowledge of others; they are transacted in private without noise or show, and are only visible to the great Searcher of hearts. What actions can express the entire purity of thought which refines and sanctifies a virtuous man? That secret rest and contentedness of mind which gives him a perfect enjoyment of his present condition? That inward pleasure and complacency which he feels in doing good? That delight and satisfaction which he takes in the prosperity and happiness of another?
It is not the business of virtue to extirpate the affections of the mind, but to regulate them. It may moderate and restrain, but was not designed to banish gladness from the heart of man. Religion contracts the circle of our pleasures, but leaves it wide enough for her votaries to expatiate in. The contemplation of the Divine Being, and the exercise of Virtue, are, in their own nature, so far from excluding all gladness of heart, that they are perpetual sources of it. In a word, the true spirit of religion cheers, as well as composes, the soul; it banishes indeed all levity of behaviour, all vicious and dissolute mirth; but in exchange fills the mind with a perpetual serenity, uninterrupted cheerfulness, and an habitual inclination to please others as well as to be pleased in itself.
Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set; and surely virtue is best in a body that is comely, though not of delicate features; and that hath rather dignity of presence than beauty of aspect: neither is it almost seen that very beautiful persons are otherwise of great virtue; as if nature were rather busy not to err, than in labour to produce excellency; and therefore they prove accomplished, but not of great spirit: and study rather behaviour than virtue. But this holds not always.
I could as easily take up with that senseless assertion of the Stoics that virtues and vices are real bodies and distinct animals, as with this of the atheist, that they can all be derived from the power of mere bodies.
There is no road or ready way to virtue: it is not an easy point of art to disentangle ourselves from this riddle, or web of sin. To perfect virtue, as to religion, there is required a panoplia, or complete armour; that whilst we lie at close ward against one vice, we lie not open to the veny of another: and indeed wiser discretions that have the thread of reason to conduct them, offend without a pardon; whereas underheads may stumble without dishonour. There are so many circumstances to piece up one good action, that it is a lesson to be good, and we are forced to be virtuous by the book.
Could the world unite in the practice of that despised train of virtues which the divine ethics of our Saviour hath so inculcated upon us, the furious face of things must disappear; Eden would be yet to be found, and the angels might look down, not with pity, but joy upon us.
Obstinacy, Sir, is certainly a great vice; and in the changeful state of political affairs it is frequently the cause of great mischief. It happens, however, very unfortunately, that almost the whole line of the great and masculine virtues, constancy, gravity, magnanimity, fortitude, fidelity, and firmness, are closely allied to this disagreeable quality, of which you have so just an abhorrence; and, in their excess, all these virtues very easily fall into it.
[Richard Shackleton] sanctified his family benevolence, his benevolence to his society and to his friends, and to mankind, with that reference in all things to the Supreme Being, without which the best dispositions and the best teaching will make virtue, if it can be at all attained, uncertain, poor, hard, dry, and comfortless.
For, believe me, there is no virtue where there is no wisdom. A great, enlarged, protecting, and preserving benevolence has it, not in its accidents and circumstances, but in its very essence, to exterminate vice, and disorder, and oppression from the world. Goodness spares infirmity. Nothing but weakness is tender of the crimes that connect themselves with power, in the destruction of the religion, laws, polity, morals, industry, liberty, and prosperity of your country.
Edmund Burke: To M. Dupont; Burkes Corresp., 1844, iii. 161.
It should seem that a due concern about our own interest or happiness, and a reasonable endeavour to secure and promote it, which is, I think, very much the meaning of the word prudence, in our language; it should seem that this is virtue, and the contrary behaviour faulty and blameable; since, in the calmest way of reflection, we approve of the first, and condemn the other conduct, both in ourselves and others.
The law of habit when enlisted on the side of righteousness not only strengthens and makes sure our resistance to vice, but facilitates the most arduous performances of virtue. The man whose thoughts, with the purposes and doings to which they lead, are at the bidding of conscience, will, by frequent repetition, at length describe the same track almost spontaneously,even as in physical education, things laboriously learnt at the first come to be done at last without the feeling of an effort. And so in moral education every new achievement of principle smooths the way to future achievements of the same kind; and the precious fruit or purchase of each moral virtue is to set us on higher and firmer vantage-ground for the conquests of principle in all time coming.
Conscious virtue is the only solid foundation of all happiness; for riches, power, rank, or whatever, in the common acceptation of the word, is supposed to constitute happiness, will never quiet, much less cure, the inward pangs of guilt.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Dec. 26, 1749.
There is but one pursuit in life which it is in the power of all to follow, and of all to attain. It is subject to no disappointments, since he that perseveres makes every difficulty an advancement, and every contest a victory; and this is the pursuit of virtue. Sincerely to aspire after virtue is to gain her, and zealously to labour after her wages is to receive them. Those that seek her early will find her before it is late; her reward also is with her, and she will come quickly. For the breast of a good man is a little heaven commencing on earth; where the Deity sits enthroned with unrivalled influence, every subjugated passion like the wind and storm fulfilling his word.
The good make a better bargain, and the bad a worse, than is usually supposed; for the rewards of the one, and the punishments of the other, not unfrequently begin on this side of the grave; for vice has more martyrs than virtue; and it often happens that men suffer more to be lost than to be saved.
Villainy that is vigilant will be an overmatch for virtue, if she slumber on her post; and hence it is that a bad cause has often triumphed over a good one; for the partisans of the former, knowing that their cause will do nothing for them, have done everything for their cause; whereas the friends of the latter are too apt to expect everything from their cause, and to do nothing for themselves.
Virtue implies opposition or struggle. In man, the struggle is between reason and passion, between right and wrong. To hold by the former is virtue, to yield to the latter is vice . As virtue implies trial or difficulty, it cannot be predicated of God. He is holy.
I know no mortification so severe as that which accompanies the evinced inefficacy in ones own conduct of a virtuous conviction so decisive that it can receive no additional cogency from the resources of either the judgment or the heart.
It is somewhat singular that many of the fashionable infidels have hit upon a definition of virtue which perfectly coincides with that of certain metaphysical divines in America, first invented and defended by that most acute reasoner, JONATHAN EDWARDS. They both place virtue exclusively in a passion for the general good; or, as Mr. Edwards expresses it, love to being in general; so that our love is always to be proportioned to the magnitude of its object in the scale of being, which is liable to the objections I have already stated, as well as to many others which the limits of this note will not permit me to enumerate. Let it suffice to remark, (1.) That virtue, on these principles, is an utter impossibility: for the system of being, comprehending the great Supreme, is infinite; and, therefore, to maintain the proper proportion, the force of particular attachment must be infinitely less than the passion for the general good: but the limits of the human mind are not capable of any emotion so infinitely different in degree. (2.) Since our views of the extent of the universe are capable of perpetual enlargement, admitting the sum of existence is ever the same, we must return back at each step to diminish the strength of particular affections, or they will become disproportionate; and consequently, on these principles, vicious; so that the balance must be continually fluctuating, by the weights being taken out of one scale and put into the other. (3.) If virtue consist exclusively in love to being in general, or attachment to the general good, the particular affections are, to every purpose of virtue, useless, and even pernicious; for their immediate, nay, their necessary tendency is to attract to their objects a proportion of attention which far exceeds their comparative value in the general scale. To allege that the general good is promoted by them will be of no advantage to the defence of this system, but the contrary, by confessing that a greater sum of happiness is attained by a deviation from, than an adherence to, its principles; unless its advocates mean by the love of being in general the same thing as the private affections, which is to confound all the distinctions of language, as well as all the operations of mind. Let it be remembered, we have no dispute respecting what is the ultimate end of virtue, which is allowed on all sides to be the greatest sum of happiness in the universe. The question is merely, What is virtue itself? or, in other words, What are the means appointed for the attainment of that end?
By great and sublime virtues are meant those which are called into action on great and trying occasions, which demand the sacrifice of the dearest interests and prospects of human life, and sometimes of life itself: the virtues, in a word, which, by their rarity and splendour, draw admiration, and have rendered illustrious the character of patriots, martyrs, and confessors. It requires but little reflection to perceive that whatever veils a future world, and contracts the limits of existence within the present life, must tend, in a proportionable degree, to diminish the grandeur and narrow the sphere of human agency.
Let a man be ever so well persuaded of the advantages of virtue, yet till he hungers and thirsts after righteousness, his will will not be determined to any action in pursuit of this confessed great good.
The felicity and beatitude that glitters in vertue shines throughout all her apartments and avenues, even to the first entry, and utmost pale and limits. Now of all the benefits that vertue confers upon us the contempt of death is one of the greatest, as the means that accomodates human life with a soft and easie tranquility, and gives us a pure and pleasant taste of living, without which all other pleasure would be extinct; which is the reason why all the rules by which we are to live, centre and concur in this one article.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. xix.
I fancy vertue to be something else, and something more noble, than good nature, and the meer propension to goodness, that we are born into the world withal. Well disposd, and well descended souls pursue, indeed, the same methods, and represent the same face, that vertue it self does: but the word vertues imports, I know not what, more great and active than meerly for a man to suffer himself, by a happy disposition, to be gently and quietly drawn to the rule of reason. He who, by a natural sweetness and facility, should despise injuries receivd, would, doubtless, do a very and a very laudable thing; but he who, provoked and nettled to the quick by an offence, should fortifie himself with the arms of reason against the furious appetite of revenge, and, after a great conflict, master his own passion, would, doubtless, do a great deal more. The first would do well; and the latter vertuously: one action might be called bounty, and the other vertue; for, methinks, the very name of vertue presupposes difficulty and contention; and tis for this reason, perhaps, that we call God good, mighty, liberal and just; but we do not give him the attribute of vertuous, being that all his operations are natural, and without endeavour.
Michel de Montaigne: Essays, Cottons 3d ed., ch. lviii.
That man which prizeth virtue for itself, and cannot endure to hoise and strike his sails as the divers natures of calms and storms require, must cut his sails of mean length and breadth, and content himself with a slow and sure navigation.
A great, a good, and a right mind is a kind of divinity lodged in flesh, and may be the blessing of a slave as well as of a prince. It came from heaven, and to heaven it must return; and it is a kind of heavenly felicity which a pure and virtuous mind enjoys in some degree even upon earth.
An homage which nature commands all understandings to pay to virtue; and yet it is but a faint, unactive thing; for, in defiance of the judgment, the will may still remain as much a stranger to virtue as before.
When Virgil describes a wit, he always means a virtuous man; and all his sentiments of men of genius are such as show persons distinguished from the common level of mankind; such as place happiness in the contempt of low fears, and mean gratifications: fears which we are subject to with the vulgar; and pleasures which we have in common with beasts.
When modesty ceases to be the chief ornament of one sex, and integrity of the other, society is upon a wrong basis, and we shall be ever after without rules to guide our judgment in what is really becoming and ornamental. Nature and reason direct one thing, passion and humour another. To follow the dictates of these two latter is going into a road that is both endless and intricate; when we pursue the other, our passage is delightful, and what we aim at easily attainable.
Obedience is a complicated act of virtue, and many graces are exercised in one act of obedience. It is an act of humility, of mortification and self-denial, of charity to God, of care of the public, of order and charity to ourselves. It is a great instance of a victory over the most refractory passions.