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The Life of Gouverneur Morris

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plumes, and shows in their native deformity. Whilst the understanding, in teaching and enforcing the duties of morality, fetters vice in a chain of reason, wit boldly rushes on, plies the lash, and goads the monster from her den. But wit is said to be capricious, and its darts to be thrown without discrimination or mercy. This is a mistake. The instrument is confounded

with the agent. Wit is harmless, but like every other strong weapon, it may be wielded to mischievous ends. Wit is a soothing balm, but a malignant temper may convert it into a deadly poison. Wit is cheerful, sunny, and serene, but a morose spirit may enshroud it in a mantle of darkness, and make it an object of terror, and even a source of suffering. Such are the abuses of wit, but not its aims and character.

In touching upon beauty, the second topic of his discourse, the young orator is more flightly and less pointed. His prevailing idea, however, is a good one, that the forms of beauty, as they exist in the physical and moral world, have been the chief means of civilizing the human race, and bringing man into a state of social order and happiness. He is not satisfied with the notions of certain theorists on this subject. 'Philosophers, who find themselves already living in society, say, that mankind first entered into it from a sense of their mutual wants. But the passions of barbarians must have had too great an influence over their understandings to render this probable. They, who were in the prime of life, would never have been persuaded to labor for such as were passed, or had not arrived at that state; and even if they consented to do it, yet the love of liberty, so natural to all, must have prevented both old and young from giving up the right of acting as they pleased, and from suffering themselves to be controlled by the will of another. Besides, reason, unassisted by beauty, would never have smoothed away that savage ferocity, which must have been an inseparable bar to their union.'

This doctrine of the power of beauty to subdue the savage nature of man admits of wide illustration. In the material world all beautiful forms are suited to move the kinder feel-


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From The Life of Gouverneur Morris: With Selections from His Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers; Detailing Events in the American Revolution, The French Revolution, and in the Political History of the United States, by Jared Sparks, Volume 1, Boston: Gray & Bowen, 1832, p 8. Some minor edits may have been made, but an attempt has been made to preserve the original spelling. Although some effort has been made to correct the limitations of OCR technology, if you find an error please report it to jvinci@colonialhall.com.

 
 


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Last modified August 20, 2006