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Of tbe Dignity of Nothing; and an Endeavout to
prove, that it is the End as well as Beginning of
NOTHING contains so much dignity as Nothing. Ask an infamous worthless nobleman (if any such be) in what his dignity consists ? It may not be perhaps consistent with his dignity to give you an answer? but suppose he should be willing to condescend so far, what could he in effect say? Should he say he had it from his ancestors, I apprehend a lawyer would oblige him to prove, that the virtues to which this dignity was annexed descended to him. If he claims it as inherent in the title, might he not be told, that a title originally implied dignity, as it implied the presence of those virtues to which dignity is inseparably annexed; but that no implication will fly in the face of downright positive proof to the contrary. In short, to examine no? farther, since his endeavour to derive it from any other fountain would be equally impotent, his diga nity arises from Nothing, and in reality is Nothing. Yet, that this dignity really exists; that it glares in the eyes of men, and produces much good to the person who wears it, is, I believe, incontestable.
Perhaps this may appear in the following syllogism.
The respect paid to men on account of their titles, is paid at least to the supposal of their superior virtues and abilities, or it is paid to Nothing
But when a man is a notorious knave or fvol it is impossible there should be any such supposal.
The conclusion is apparent.
Now that no man is ashamed of either paying or receiving this respect I wonder not, since the great importance of Nothing seems, I think, to be pretty apparent : but that they should deny the Deity worshiped, and endeavour to represent Nothing as Something, is more worthy reprehension. This is a fallacy extremely common.
I have seen a fellow, whom all the world knew to have Nothing in him, not only pretend to Something himself, but supported in that pretension by others who have been less liable to be deceived. Now whence can this proceed but from their being ashamed of Nothing? A modesty very peculiar to this age.
But, notwithstanding all such disguises and deceit, a man must have very little discernment who can live long in courts, or populous cities, without being convinced of the great dignity of Nothing ; and though he should, through corruption or necessity, comply with the vulgar worship and adulation, he will know to what it is paid; namely, to Nothing.
The most astonishing instance of this respect, so frequently paid to Nothing, is when it is paid (if I may so express myself) to something less than Nothing; when the person who receives it is not only void of the quality for which he is respected, but is in reality notoriously guilty of the vices directly opposite to the virtues whose applause he receives. This is, indeed, the highest degree of Nothing, or (if I may be allowed the word), the Nothingest of all Ncthings.
Here it is to be known, that respect may be aimed at Something and really light on Nothing, For instance, when mistaking certain things called gravity, canting, blustering, ostentation, pomp, and such like, for wisdom, piety, magnanimity, charity, true greatness, &c. we give to the former the honour and reverence due to the latter. Not that I would be understood so far to discredit my subject aś to insinuate that gravity, canting, &c. are really Nothing; on the contrary, there is much more reason to suspect (if we judge from the practice of the world) that wisdom, piety, and other virtues, have a good title to that name. But we do not, in fact, pay our respect to the former, but to the latter : in other words, we pay it to that which is not, and consequently pay it to Nothing,
So far then for the dignity of the subject on which I am treating. I am now to shew, that Nothing is the end as well as beginning of all things.
That every thing is resolvable, and will be resolved into its first principles, will be, I believe, readily acknowledged by all philosophers. As, therefore, we have sufficiently proved the world came from Nothing; it follows, that it will likewise end in the same : but, as I am writing to a nation of Christians, I have no need to be prolix on this head; since every one of my readers, by his faith, acknowledges that the world is to have an end, i.e. is to come to Nothing.
And, as Nothing is the end of the world, so is it of every thing in the world. Ambition, the greatest, highest, noblest, finest, most heroic and godlike of all passions, wiat doth it end in ?-Nothing. What did Alexander, Cæsar, and all the rest of that heroic band, who have plundered and massacred so many millions, obtain by all their care, labour, pain, fatigue;. and danger ? ---Could they speak for themselves, must they not own, that the end of all their pursuit was Nothing ? Nor is this the end of private ambition only. What is become of that proud mistress of the world,--the Caput triumphati orbis? that Rome, of which her own flatterers so liberally prophesied the immortality. In what hath all her glory ended ? Surely in Nothing:
Again, what is the end of avarice? Not or pleasure, as some think, for the miser will part
with a shilling for neither : not ease or happiness ; for the more he attains of what he desires the more uneasy and miserable he is. If every good in this world was put to him he could not say he pursued onë. Shall we say then he pursues misery only That surely would be contradictory to the first principles of human nature. May we not therefore, nay, must we not confess, that he aims at Nothing? especialiy if he be himself unable to tell us what is the end of all this bustle and hurry, this watching and toiling, this self-denial and self-constraint ?
It will not, I apprehend, be sufficient for him to plead, that his design is to amass a large fortune, which he never can nor will use himself, nor would willingly quit to any other person ; unless he can shew us some substantial good which this fortune is to produce, we shall certainly be justified in concluding, that his end is the same with that of ambition.
The great Mr. Hobbes so plainly saw this, that, as he was an enemy to that notable immaterial substance which we have here handled, and therefore unwilling to allow it the large province we have contended for, he advanced a very strange doctrine, and asserted truly,—That in al} these grand pursuits the means themselves were the end proposed, viz. to ambition, plotting, fighting, danger, difficulty, and such like :-- tu avarice, cheating, starving, watching, and the numberless painful arts by which this passion proceeds.
be to demonstrate the absurdity of this opinion it will be needless to my purpose, since, if we are driven to confess that the means are the only end attained, I think we must likewise confess, that the end proposed is absolutely Nothing.
As I have shewn the end of our two greatest and noblest pursuits, one or other of which engages almost every individual of the busy part of mankind,
I shall not tire the reader with carrying him through all the rest, since I believe the same conclusion may be easily drawn from them all.
I shall therefore finish this Essay with an inference, which aptlyenough suggests itself from what hath been said: seeing that such is its dignity and importance, and that it is really the end of all those things which are supported with so much pomp and solemnity, and looked on with such respect and esteem, surely it becomes a wise man to regard Nothing with the utmost awe and adoration ; to pursue it with all his parts and pains; and to sacrifice to it his ease, his innocence, and his present happiness. To which noble pursuit we have this great incitement, that we may assure ourselves of never being cheated or deceived in the end proposed. The virtuous, wise, and learned, may then be unconcerned at all the changes of ministries and of government; since they may be well satisfied, that while ministers of state are rogues themselves, and have inferior knavish tools to bribe and reward ; true virtue, wisdom, learning, wit, and integrity, will most certainly bring their possessors-Nothing.