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An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals

II. Of Benevolence
PART I.
It may be esteemed, perhaps, a superfluous task to prove, that the benevolent or softer
affections are estimable; and wherever they appear, engage the approbation and good-will
of mankind. The epithets SOCIABLE, GOOD-NATURED, HUMANE, MERCIFUL,
GRATEFUL, FRIENDLY, GENEROUS, BENEFICENT, or their equivalents, are
known in all languages, and universally express the highest merit, which HUMAN
NATURE is capable of attaining. Where these amiable qualities are attended with birth
and power and eminent abilities, and display themselves in the good government or
useful instruction of mankind, they seem even to raise the possessors of them above the
rank of HUMAN NATURE, and make them approach in some measure to the divine.
Exalted capacity, undaunted courage, prosperous success; these may only expose a hero
or politician to the envy and ill-will of the public: but as soon as the praises are added of
humane and beneficent; when instances are displayed of lenity, tenderness or friendship;
envy itself is silent, or joins the general voice of approbation and applause.
When Pericles, the great Athenian statesman and general, was on his death-bed, his
surrounding friends, deeming him now insensible, began to indulge their sorrow for their
expiring patron, by enumerating his great qualities and successes, his conquests and
victories, the unusual length of his administration, and his nine trophies erected over the
enemies of the republic. YOU FORGET, cries the dying hero, who had heard all, YOU
FORGET THE MOST EMINENT OF MY PRAISES, WHILE YOU DWELL SO
MUCH ON THOSE VULGAR ADVANTAGES, IN WHICH FORTUNE HAD A
PRINCIPAL SHARE. YOU HAVE NOT OBSERVED THAT NO CITIZEN HAS
EVER YET WORNE MOURNING ON MY ACCOUNT. [Plut. in Pericle]
In men of more ordinary talents and capacity, the social virtues become, if possible, still
more essentially requisite; there being nothing eminent, in that case, to compensate for
the want of them, or preserve the person from our severest hatred, as well as contempt. A
high ambition, an elevated courage, is apt, says Cicero, in less perfect characters, to
degenerate into a turbulent ferocity. The more social and softer virtues are there chiefly to
be regarded. These are always good and amiable [Cic. de Officiis, lib. I].
The principal advantage, which Juvenal discovers in the extensive capacity of the human
species, is that it renders our benevolence also more extensive, and gives us larger
opportunities of spreading our kindly influence than what are indulged to the inferior
creation [Sat. XV. 139 and seq.]. It must, indeed, be confessed, that by doing good only,
can a man truly enjoy the advantages of being eminent. His exalted station, of itself but
the more exposes him to danger and tempest. His sole prerogative is to afford shelter to
inferiors, who repose themselves under his cover and protection.
But I forget, that it is not my present business to recommend generosity and benevolence,
or to paint, in their true colours, all the genuine charms of the social virtues. These,
 
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