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cried the stranger; « such skins wear well. »-« But she is bandy-legged,» says the exciseman.--« No matter,» cries the other; « her petticoats will hide that defect.»---« But then she is very poor, and wants an eye.».
»-« Your description delights me,» cries the stranger; «I have been looking out for one of her make; for I keep an exhibition of wild beasts, and intend to show her off for a Chimpanzee.»
Mankind have ever been prone to expatiate in the praise of human nature.
The dignity of man is a subject that has always been the favourite theme of humanity: they have declaimed with that ostentation which usually accompanies such as are sure of having a partial audience; they have obtained victories because there were none to oppose. Yet from all I have ever read or seen, men appear more apt to err by having too high, than by having too despicable, an opinion of their nature; and by attempting to exalt their original place in the creation, depress their real value in society.
The most ignorant nations have always been found to think most highly of themselves. The Deity has ever been thought peculiarly concerned in their glory and preservation; to have fought their battles, and inspired their teachers: their wizards are said to be familiar with heaven; and every hero has a guard of angels as well as men to attend him. When the Portuguese first came among
the wretched inhabitants of the coast of Africa, these savage
nations readily allowed the strangers more skill in navigation and war; yet still considered them at best but as useful servants, brought to their coast, by their guardian serpent, to supply them with luxuries they could have lived without. Though they could grant the Portuguese more riches, they could never allow them to have such a king as their Tottimondelem, who wore a bracelet of shells round his neck, and whose legs were covered with ivory.
In this manner examine a savage in the history of his country and predecessors, you ever find his warriors able to conquer armies, and his sages acquainted with more than possible knowledge: human nature is to him an unknown country; he thinks it capable of great things because he is ignorant of its boundaries; whatever can be conceived to be done, he allows to be possible, and whatever is possible he conjectures must have been done. He never measures the actions and powers of others by what himself is able to perform, nor makes a proper estimate of the greatness of his fellows by bringing it to the standard of his own incapacity. He is satisfied to be one of a country where mighty things have been ; and imagines the fancied power of others reflects a lustre on himself. Thus by degrees he loses the idea of his own insignificance in a confused notion of the extraordinary powers of humanity, and is willing to grant extraordinary gifts to every pretender, because unacquainted with their claims.
This is the reason why demi-gods and heroes have ever been erected in times or countries of ignorance and barbarity: they addressed a people who had high opinions of human nature, because they were ignorant how far it could extend; they addressed a people who were willing to allow that men should be gods, because they were yet imperfectly acquainted with God and with man. These impostors knew, that all men are naturally fond of seeing something very great made from the little materials of humanity; that ignorant nations are not more proud of building a tower to reach heaven, or a'pyramid to last for ages, than of raising up a demi-god of their own country and creation. The same pride that erects a colossus or pyramid, instals a god or a hero: but though the adoring savage can raise his colossus to the clouds, he can exalt the hero not one inch above the standard of humanity: incapable, therefore, of exalting the idol, he debases himself, and falls prostrate before him.
When man has thus acquired an erroneous idea of the dignity of his species, he and the gods become perfectly intimate; men are but angels, angels are but 'men; nay, but servants that stand in waiting, to execute human commands. The Persians, for instance, thus address their prophet Hali: «I salute thee, glorious Creator, of whom the sun is but the shadow. Masterpiece of the Lord of human creatures, Great Star of Justice and Religion. The sea is not rich and liberal, but by the gifts of thy munificent hands. The angel treasurer of Heaven reaps
his harvest in the fertile gardens of the purity of thy nature. The primum mobile would never dart the ball of the sun through the trunk of Heaven, were it not to serve the morning out of the extreme love she has for thee. The angel Gabriel, messenger of truth, every day kisses the groundsel of thy gate. Were there a place more exalted than the most high throne of God, I would affirm it to be thy place, O master of the faithful ! Gabriel, with all his art and knowledge, is but a mere scholar to thee.» Thus, my friend, men think proper to treat angels : but if indeed there be such an order of beings, with what a degree of satirical contempt must they listen to the songs of little mortals thus flattering each other! thus to see creatures, wiser indeed than the monkey, and more active than the oyster, claiming to themselves a mastery of Heaven! minims, the tenants of an atom, thus arrogating a partnership in the creation of universal nature! surely Heaven is kind that launches no thunder at those guilty heads; but it is kind, and regards their follies with pity, nor will destroy creatures that it loved into being.
But whatever success this practice of making demi-gods might have been attended with in barbarous nations, I do not know that any man became a god in a country where the inhabitants were refined. Such countries generally have too close an inspection into human weakness to think it invested with celestial power. They sometimes indeed admit the gods of strangers or of their ancestors, who had their existence in times of obscurity; their weakness being forgotten, while nothing but their power and their miracles were remembered. The Chinese, for instance, never had a god of their own country; the idols which the vulgar worship at this day, were brought from the barbarous nations around them. The Roman emperors who pretended to divinity, were generally taught by a poniard that they were mortal; and Alexander, though he passed among barbarous countries for a real god, could never persuade his polite countrymen into a similitude of thinking. The Lacedemonians shrewdly complied with his commands by the following sarcastic edict:
'Ει Αλεξανδρος βουλεται ειναι Θεος, Θεος εστω.