Volume 2, Chapter 14
Volume 2, Chapter 14
Mr. Macneil was a man of the warmest philanthropy, and by degrees reposed in him a confidence, to which I had seldom felt excited toward any other man, After a time, I hired apartments in the house of a substantial farmer in his neighborhood, that I might the more freely enjoy his conversation and acquaintance, without being an interruption to the domestic economy of his family. I laid before him the secret grief that preyed upon my heart. I described the sickly sensibility of my temper, the early disgust I had taken at the world, and the miserable sense of desolation which preyed upon my life, in my detached and unconnected situation.
'Come,' replied my friend, in that vein of playful good-humor which he delighted to indulge, 'whether you consult me, as a good Catholic does his priest, for the salvation of his soul, or as an invalid does his physician, for the restoration of his health, let us try if we cannot make a conversion or a cure of it!'
Many were the debates that passed between me and my host respecting the true estimate of the human species. We differed, I suppose, first, because we had seen them under unlike circumstances, and in unlike aspects. We differed, secondly, because we compared them with different ideal standards. I thought, so to express myself, too highly of the human mind in the abstract, to be able: to consider with patience man as he is. I dwelt upon the capacities of our nature; the researches of a Newton, the elevation of a Milton, and the virtues of an Alfred; and, having filled my mind with these, I contemplated even with horror, the ignorance, the brutality, the stupidity, the selfishness, and, as it appeared to me, the venality and profligacy, in which millions and millions of my fellow-creatures are involved. I estimated mankind, with an eye to the goal which it is ardently to be desired they might reach: Mr. Macneil estimated them, with an eye to the standing-post from which they commenced their career.
'In every man that lives,' he stoutly affirmed, 'there is much to commend. Every man has in him the seeds of a good husband, a good father, and a sincere friend. You will say, perhaps, these are not sublime and magnificent virtues; yet, if each man were enabled to discharge these, the world upon the whole would afford a ravishing spectacle. What a spirit of forbearance, of gentle attentions, of anxiety to maintain the cheerfulness and peace of his female companion, inhabits every human breast! Scarcely do we hear of the monster in whom this spirit is ever extinguished. It accompanies almost all men, with whatever unhappy interruptions, from maturity to the grave. Look upon the poorest clown in the midst of his children; what a heavenly picture! How do his eyes glisten at their little pleasures, their sallies of penetration and vivacity! How disinterested a sentiment burns in his heart! Yes, disinterested: for I know you will laugh at the silly sophism which, when it regards the immense sacrifices that every father is ready to make for his child, calls the impulse from which they spring a selfish one. To acknowledge, I am weak enough to be as much delighted with the spectacle of the lively and ardent affection of an Englishman to his son, as if it were directed toward the child of a Japanese. It is equally affection, and equally beneficent. How much good neighborhood there is in the world! What readiness in every man to assist every stranger that comes in his way if his carriage is broken down, if his horse has run from and left him, or almost whatever is his distress! How cheerfully does he give his day's labor, or the produce of his day's labor, to his friend, till that friend, by injustice, has proved himself unworthy of the kindness! For my part, instead of joining in the prevailing cry of the selfishness, the wickedness, the original sin, or the subsequent depravity of mankind, I feel my heart swell within me, when I recollect that I belong to a species, almost every individual of which is endowed with angelic virtues. I am a philanthropist, in the plain sense of the word. Whenever I see a man I see something to love, -- not with a love of compassion, but a love of approbation. I need not put the question to him -- I know without asking, that he is fully prepared and eager to do a thousand virtuous acts, the moment the occasion is afforded him.
'I have sometimes had the thought,' continued Mr. Macneil, 'of composing a little novel or tale in illustration of my position. I would take such a man, as my friend Fleetwood, for example, who looks with a disdainful eye upon his species, and has scarcely the patience to enter into discourse and intercourse with anyone he meets: I would put him on board a ship; he will, of course, be sufficiently disgusted with everyone of his companions: all of a sudden I would raise a most furious tempest: I would cause him to be shipwrecked on a desert island, with no companion but one man, the most gross, perverse, and stupid of the crew: all the rest - the captain who, though sagacious. was positive. the surgeon who, though skillful, was tiresome by his pedantry - I would without mercy send to the bottom. What do you think I would represent as the natural result of this situation? My fastidious misanthrope would no longer have a world or a nation, from which to choose his companion, and, after trying all, to reject all: he would be wholly deprived of the power of choice. Here, sir, I would show how by degrees he would find a thousand resources in this despised sailor. He would find him active, spirited, and alert. Where before he believed, without examination, that all was stupefaction, he would find, by a variety of tokens, good sense and sagacity. How these two companions would love one another. How they would occasionally spend the livelong night in delightful chat! How they would study each other's virtues and attainments even each other's foibles! With what eager anxiety, when any necessary occasion separated them, would they look for each other's return! With what daring and superhuman courage would they defend each other from danger-And do not be perverse enough to believe that all this anxiety would be the fruit of selfishness! They would have discovered in each other inestimable qualities, a large stock of sound judgment and excellent sense, and an inexhaustible fund of kind and benevolent propensities. After some years I would bring back my misanthrope to England. Sir, he would never be able to part with his companion in the desert island. He would believe that there was not a creature in the world, take him for all in all, so valuable. Yet observe, he would only entertain this opinion of him, because he knew him more thoroughly than any of the rest of his species. I took my sailor merely as a specimen of human nature, and of human nature in one of its most unfavorable forms.'
I hope my reader will be convinced by the arguments of Mr. Macneil. What a blessed state of mind was that, to which he appears to have attained! Yet, for myself, I acknowledge, either because truth was on my side, or, it may be, merely from the excessive susceptibleness of my nature, or the accidents of my life, I remained unaltered by his discourses, and, though I wished to be a philanthropist, was a misanthrope still.
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