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EVILS of Imperfection.
On Evils of imperfection.
IN pursuance of the plan proposed in my last, I shall now proceed to examine into the Nature of each particular kind of Evil, and in the first place of those therein denominated Evils of Imperfection; which are in truth no Evils at all, but rather the absence of some comparative Good; and therefore I shall not have occasion to detain you long on this part of my subject.
No System can possibly be formed, even in imagination, without a subordination of 58parts. Every animal body must have different members subservient to each other; every picture must be composed of various colours, and of light and shade; all harmony must be formed of trebles, tenors, and basses; every beautiful and useful edifice must consist of higher and lower, more and less magnificent apartments. This is in the very essence of all created things, and therefore cannot be prevented by any means whatever, unless by not creating them at all: for which reason, in the formation of the Universe, God was obliged, in order to carry on that just subordination so necessary to the very existence of the whole, to create Beings of different ranks; and to bestow on various species of animals, and also on the individuals of the same species, various degrees of understanding, strength, beauty, and perfection; to the comparative 59want of which advantages we give the names of folly, weakness, deformity, and imperfection, and very unjustly repute them Evils: whereas in truth they are blessings as far as they extend, tho' of an inferior degree. They are no more actual Evils, than a small estate is a real misfortune, because many may be possessed of greater.
Whatever we enjoy, is purely a free gift from our Creator; but that we enjoy no more, can never sure be deemed an injury, or a just reason to question his infinite benevolence. All our happiness is owing to his goodness; but that it is no greater, is owing only to ourselves, that is, to our not having any inherent right to any happiness, or even to any existence at all. This is no more to be imputed to God, than the wants of a beggar to the person who 60has relieved him: that he had something, was owing to his benefactor; but that he had no more, only to his original poverty.
They who look upon the privation of all the good they see others enjoy, or think possible for infinite power to bestow, as positive Evil, understand not that the Universe is a system whose very essence consists in subordination; a scale of beings descending by insensible degrees from infinite perfection to absolute nothing; in which, tho' we may justly expect to find perfection in the whole, could we possibly comprehend it; yet would it be the highest absurdity to hope for it in all its parts, because the beauty and happiness of the whole depend altogether on the just inferiority of its parts, that is, on the comparative imperfections 61of the several Beings of which it is composed.
It would have been no more an instance of God's wisdom to have created no Beings but of the highest and most perfect order, than it would be of a painter's art, to cover his whole piece with one single colour, the most beautiful he could compose. Had he confined himself to such, nothing could have existed but demi-gods, or archangels, and then all inferior orders must have been void and uninhabited: but as it is surely more agreeable to infinite benevolence, that all these should be filled up with Beings capable of enjoying happiness themselves, and contributing to that of others, they must necessarily be filled with inferior Beings, that is, with such as are less perfect, but from whose existence, notwithstanding 62that less perfection, more felicity upon the whole accrues to the Universe, than if no such had been created. It is moreover highly probable that there is such a connexion between all ranks and orders by subordinate degrees, that they mutually support each other's existence, and every one in its place is absolutely necessary towards sustaining the whole vast and magnificent fabrick.
You see therefore, that it is utterly impracticable, even for infinite power, to exclude from Creation this necessary inferiority of some Beings in comparison with others. All that it can do is to make each as happy as their respective situations will permit: and this it has done in so extraordinary a manner, as to leave the benevolence of our great Creator not to be doubted 63of; for tho' he cannot make all superior, yet in the dispensations of his blessings his wisdom and goodness both are well worthy the highest admiration; for, amongst all the wide distinctions which he was obliged to make in the dignity and perfections of his Creatures, he has made much less in their happiness than is usually imagined, or indeed can be believed from outward appearances. He has given many advantages to Brutes, which Man cannot attain to with all his superiority, and many probably to Man which are denied to Angels; amongst which his ignorance is perhaps none of the least. With regard to him, tho' it was necessary to the great purposes of human life to bestow riches, understanding, and health, on individuals in very partial proportions; yet has the Almighty so contrived the nature of things, 64that happiness is distributed with a more equal hand. His goodness, we may observe, is always striving with these our necessary imperfections, setting bounds to the inconveniencies it cannot totally prevent, by balancing the wants, and repaying the sufferings of all by some kind of equivalent naturally resulting from their particular situations and circumstances. Thus, for example, poverty, or the want of riches, is generally compensated by having more hopes, and fewer fears, by a greater share of health, and a more exquisite relish of the smallest enjoyments, than those who possess them are usually blessed with. The want of taste and genius, with all the pleasures that arise from them, are commonly recompenced by a more useful kind of common sense, together with a wonderful delight, as well as success, in the busy pursuits 65of a scrambling world. The sufferings of the Sick are greatly relieved by many trifling gratifications imperceptible to others, and sometimes almost repaid by the inconceivable transports occasioned by the return of health and vigour. Folly cannot be very grievous, because imperceptible; and I doubt not but there is some truth in that rant of a mad Poet, that there is a pleasure in being mad, which none but madmen know. Ignorance, or the want of knowledge and literature, the appointed lot of all born to poverty, and the drudgeries of life, is the only opiate capable of infusing that insensibility which can enable them to endure the miseries of the one, and the fatigues of the other. It is a cordial administered by the gracious hand of Providence; of which they ought never to be deprived by an ill-judged and 66improper Education. It is the basis of all subordination, the support of society, and the privilege of individuals: and I have ever thought it a most remarkable instance of the Divine Wisdom, that whereas in all animals, whose individuals rise little above the rest of their species, knowledge is instinctive; in Man, whose individuals are so widely different, it is acquired by Education; by which means the Prince and the Labourer, the Philosopher, and the Peasant, are in some measure fitted for their respective situations. The same parental care extends to every part of the animal creation. Brutes are exempted from numberless anxieties, by that happy want of reflection on past, and apprehension of future sufferings, which are annexed to their inferiority. Those amongst them who devour others, are taught by Nature to 67dispatch them as easily as possible; and Man, the most merciless devourer of all, is induced, by his own advantage, to feast those designed for his sustenance, the more luxuriously to feast upon them himself. Thus misery, by all possible methods, is diminished or repaid; and happiness, like fluids, is ever tending towards an Equilibrium.
But was it ever so unequally divided, our pretence for complaint could be of this only, that we are not so high in the scale of existence as our ignorant ambition may desire: a pretence which must eternally subsist; because, were we ever so much higher, there would be still room for infinite power to exalt us; and since no link in the chain can be broke, the same reason for disquiet 68must remain to those who succeed to that chasm, which must be occasioned by our preferment. A man can have no reason to repine, that he is not an Angel; nor a Horse, that he is not a Man; much less, that in their several stations they possess not the faculties of another; for this would be an insufferable misfortune. And doubtless it would be as inconvenient for a Man to be endued with the knowledge of an Angel, as for a Horse to have the reason of a Man; but, as they are now formed by the consummate wisdom of their Creator, each enjoys pleasures peculiar to his situation: and tho' the happiness of one may perhaps consist in divine Contemplation, of another in the acquisition of wealth and power, and that of a third, in wandering amongst limpid stream, and luxuriant pastures; yet the meanest of these enjoyments give no interruption 69to the most sublime, but altogether undoubtedly increase the aggregate sum of felicity bestowed upon the universe. Greatly indeed must that be lessened, were there no Beings but of the highest orders. Did there not, for instance, exist on this terrestrial Globe any sensitive creatures inferior to Man, how great a quantity of happiness must have been lost, which is now enjoy'd by millions, who at present inhabit every part of its surface, in fields and gardens, in extended desarts, impenetrable woods, and immense oceans; by monarchies of Bees, republics of Ants, and innumerable families of insects dwelling on every leaf and flower, who are all possessed of as great a share of pleasure, and a greater of innocence, than their arrogant Sovereign, and at the same time not a little contribute to his convenience and happiness!70
Has God, thou Fool! work'd solely for thy good!
Thy Joy, thy Pastime, thy Attire, thy Food!
Who for thy Table feeds the wanton Fawn,
For him as kindly spreads the flow'ry lawn.
Is it for thee the Lark ascends and sings?
Joy tunes his Voice, joy elevates his Wings.
Is it for thee the Linnet pours his Throat?
Loves of his own, and raptures, swell the note.
The bounding Steed you pompously bestride,
Shares with his Lord the pleasure and the pride.
Is thine alone the seed that strews the plain?
The birds of Heav'n shall vindicate their grain.
Thine the full harvest of the Golden Year?
Part pays, and justly, the deferring Steer.
Thus the Universe resembles a large and well-regulated Family, in which all the officers and servants, and even the domestic animals, are subservient to each other in a proper subordination: each enjoys the privileges and perquisites peculiar to his place, and at the same time contributes by 71that just subordination to the magnificence and happiness of the whole.
It is evident, therefore, that these Evils of Imperfection, proceeding from the necessary inferiority of some Beings in comparison of others, can in no sense be called any Evils at all: but if they could, it is as evident from thence, that there are many which even infinite power cannot prevent; it being sufficiently demonstrable, that to produce a system of created Beings, all supreme in happiness and dignity, a government composed of all Kings, an army of all Generals, or a universe of all Gods, must be impracticable for Omnipotence itself.
We have here then made a large stride towards our intended Goal, having at once acquitted the Divine Goodness, and 72freed Mankind from a numerous train of imaginary Evils, by most clearly shewing them to be no Evils at all; and yet under this head are really comprehended all the Evils we perpetually complain of, except actual pain, the nature of which, and how it came to have a place in the works of an omnipotent and good Being, shall be considered in the next Letter from,
S I R, &c.73
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