No religion ever appeared in the world whose natural tendency was so much directed to promote the peace and happiness of mankind. It makes right reason a law in every possible definition of the word. And therefore, even supposing it to have been purely a human invention, it had been the most amiable and the most useful invention that was ever imposed on mankind for their good.
The slavish principles of passive obedience and non-resistance, which had skulked, perhaps, in some old homily before James I., but were talked, written, and preached into vogue in that inglorious reign, and in those of his three successors, were renounced at the Revolution by the last of the several parties who declared for them.
Believe me, the providence of God has established such an order in the world, that of all which belongs to us the least valuable parts can alone fall under the will of others. Whatever is best is safest, lies most out of the reach of human power, can neither be given nor taken away. Such is the great and beautiful work of nature,the world; such is the mind of man, which contemplates and admires the world, where it makes the noblest part. These are inseparably ours; and as long as we remain in one we shall enjoy the other. Let us march, therefore, intrepidly, wherever we are led by the course of human accidents. Wherever they lead us, on what coast soever we are thrown by them, we shall not find ourselves absolutely strangers.
Surely the love of our country is a lesson of reason, not an institution of nature. Education and habit, obligation and interest, attach us to it, not instinct. It is, however, so necessary to be cultivated, and the prosperity of all societies, as well as the grandeur of some, depends upon it so much, that orators by their eloquence, and poets by their enthusiasm, have endeavoured to work up this precept of morality into a principle of passion. But the examples which we find in history, improved by the lively descriptions and the just applauses or censures of historians, will have a much better and more permanent effect than declamation, or song, or the dry ethics of mere philosophy.
Neither Montaigne in writing his essays, nor Descartes in building new worlds, nor Burnet in framing an antediluvian earth, no, nor Newton in discovering and establishing the true laws of nature on experiment and a sublime geometry, felt more intellectual joys than he feels who is a real patriot, who bends all the force of his understanding, and directs all his thoughts and actions, to the good of his country.
There is scarce any folly or vice more epidemical among the sons of men than that ridiculous and hurtful vanity by which the people of each country are apt to prefer themselves to those of every other; and to make their own customs, and manners, and opinions, the standards of right and wrong, of true and false. The Chinese mandarins were strongly surprised, and almost incredulous, when the Jesuits showed them how small a figure their empire made in the general map of the world.
I think very differently from most men of the time we have to pass, and the business we have to do, in this world. I think we have more of one, and less of the other, than is commonly supposed . We are all arrant spendthrifts; some of us dissipate our estates on the trifles, some on the superfluities, and then we all complain that we want the necessaries, of life. The much greatest part never reclaim, but die bankrupts to God and man.
We are both in the decline of life, my dear dean, and have been some years going down the hill: let us make the passage as smooth as we can. Let us fence against physical evil by care, and the use of those means which experience must have pointed out to us; let us fence against moral evil by philosophy. We may, nay (if we will follow nature and do not work up imagination against her plainest dictates) we shall, of course, grow every year more indifferent to life, and to the affairs and interests of a system out of which we are soon to go. This is much better than stupidity. The decay of passion strengthens philosophy; for passion may decay and stupidity not succeed. Passions (says Pope, our divine, as you will see one time or other) are the gales of life; let us not complain that they do not blow a storm. What hurt does age do us in subduing what we toil to subdue all our lives? It is now six in the morning; I recall the time (and am glad it is over) when about this hour I used to be going to bed, surfeited with pleasure or jaded with business; my head often full of schemes, and my heart as often full of anxiety. Is it a misfortune, think you, that I rise at this hour refreshed, serene, and calm; that the past and even the present affairs of life stand like objects at a distance from me, where I can keep off the disagreeable, so as not to be strongly affected by them, and from whence I can draw the others nearer to me? Passions, in their force, would bring all these, nay, even future contingencies, about my ears at once, and reason would ill defend me in the scuffle.
Some [histories] are to be read, some to be studied, and some may be neglected entirely, not only without detriment, but with advantage. Some are the proper objects of one mans curiosity, some of anothers, and some of all mens; but all history is not an object of curiosity for any man. He who improperly, wantonly, and absurdly makes it so, indulges a kind of canine appetite: the curiosity of the one, like the hunger of the other, devours ravenously, and without distinction, whatever falls in its way, but neither of them digests. They heap crudity upon crudity, and nourish and improve nothing but their distemper. Some such characters I have known, though it is not the most common extreme into which men are apt to fall.
Lord Bolingbroke: Letters on the Study and Use of History.
He who reads with discernment and choice will acquire less learning, but more knowledge; and as this knowledge is collected with design, and cultivated with art and method, it will be at all times of immediate and ready use to himself and others . He who reads without this discernment and choice, and, like Bodins pupil, resolves to read all, will not have time, no, nor capacity neither, to do anything else. He will not be able to think, without which it is impertinent to read; nor to act, without which it is impertinent to think. He will assemble materials with much pains, and purchase them at much expense, and have neither leisure nor skill to frame them into proper scantlings, or to prepare them for use. To what purpose should he husband his time, or learn architecture? he has no design to build. But then, to what purpose all these quarries of stone, all these mountains of sand and time, all these forests of oak and deal?
Lord Bolingbroke: Letters on the Study and Use of History.
I might instance in other professions the obligations men lie under of applying to certain parts of history; and I can hardly forbear doing it in that of the law,in its nature the noblest and most beneficial to mankind, in its abuse and debasement the most pernicious. A lawyer now is nothing more (I speak of ninety-nine in a hundred at least), to use some of Tullys words, Nisi læguleius quidam cautus, et arutus præco actionum cantor formularum, auceps syllabarum. But there have been lawyers that were orators, philosophers, historians. There have been Bacons and Clarendons. There will be none such any more till, in some better age, true ambition or the love of fame prevails over avarice, and till men find leisure and encouragement to prepare themselves for the exercise of this profession by climbing up to the vantage groundso my Lord Bacon calls itof science, instead of grovelling all their lives below in a mean but gainful application to all the little arts of chicane. Till this happen, the profession of the law will scarce deserve to be ranked among the learned professions; and, whenever it happens, one of the vantage grounds to which men must climb is metaphysical, and the other historical, knowledge. They must pry into the secret recesses of the human heart and become well acquainted with the whole moral world, that they may discover the abstract reason of all laws; and they must trace the laws of particular statesespecially of their ownfrom the first rough sketches to the more perfect draughtsfrom the first causes or occasions that produced them, through all the effects, good and bad, that they produced.