Not the least significant feature of the advance from Hume's philosophy is the introduction of the word "sentiment" into the title of Adam Smith's treatise, for during the remaining years of the century the chief development of the doctrine of sympathy in England is found in the novelists of the sentimental school. "Sentimental! what is that?" is the record in Wesley's journal after reading Sterne's Sentimental Journey. "It is not English: he might as well say Continental. It is not sense. It conveys no determinate idea; yet one fool makes many. And this nonsensical word (who would believe it?) is become a fashionable one!" The hypercritical might have been told that if the word conveyed no determinate idea, it at least represented a very definite force and had a perfectly clear origin. It was nothing else but the logical outcome of Hume's and Adam Smith's theory of sympathy entirely dissevered from any supernatural principle as the source of virtue. From 1760 to 1768 Sterne was issuing the successive volumes of Tristram Shandy and the Sentimental Journey, in which this virtue of sentimental sympathy, reduced to pure sensibility, if not to morbidly sensitive nerves, and utterly freed from reason or character or the law of cause and effect, appears full-blown. Whatever practical moral these books may have is to be found in the episode of my Uncle Toby tenderly letting the buzzing fly out of the window or in the tears of the pilgrim over the carcass of a dead ass. If Sterne's sentiment was apt to grow a trifle maudlin, that of his contemporary, Henry Brooke, was a constant downflow of soul. "This is a book of tears," says a modern editor of Brooke's Fool of Quality; "but they are tears that purge and purify with pity and compassion." I am inclined to think the purging for many readers to-day would come more from ridicule than from pity; but the book is notable as an attempt to depict a life made completely virtuous by the new sentiment of sympathy for all mankind. Hearken for a minute to one of the sermons of the pious Mentor of the story to his youthful charge:--

I once told you my darling [he says], that all the evil which is in you belongs to yourself, and that all the good which is in you belongs to your God.... Remember, therefore, this distinction in yourself and all others; remember that, when you feel or see any instance of selfishness, you feel and see the coveting, grudging, and grappling of the creature; but that, where you feel or see any instance of benevolence, you feel and see the informing influence of your God. All possible vice and malignity subsists in the one; all possible virtue, all possible beauty, all possible blessedness, subsists in the other.

Now two things are remarkable in this passage, and would stand out even more plainly if I should quote at greater length. First, we have got completely away from the utilitarian theory of social virtue as a mutual concession of self-interests, which was propounded by Hobbes and essentially retained by Locke and Hume and Adam Smith, though gradually overlaid by the modifying power of sympathy. In Brooke's philosophy self-interest and benevolence are finally and absolutely sundered: the one is all vice, the other is all virtue. And, secondly, we may see here how far this newer notion of sympathy is removed from the compassion of Hobbes's Platonizing contemporary; the contrast is even more vivid from the fact that Brooke gives a thoroughly Christian turn to the expression of the "eternal law of benevolence," as he calls it. In Henry More the "kindly compassion" for the world is entirely subsidiary to the rapture of a spirit caught up in celestial contemplation, whereas in The Fool of Quality love is indeed planted in us by a divine hand as a force contrary to what Brooke calls "the very horrible and detestable nature of Self," but its total meaning and effect are in a sentimental dissolution of man's self in the idea of humanity. We have reached, that is to say, the genuine springs of humanitarianism.

Meanwhile the doctrine of sympathy had passed in France into the pen, if not into the heart, of one whose genius was to give it a new color and a power sufficient to crush and remould societies. It is not necessary to go at large into the well-known theories of Rousseau. In his Discourse on Inequality (1755) and his Social Contract (1762) he, like his English predecessors, starts with the motives of self-interest and sympathy, but soon gives them a different direction. He saw, as did Hobbes and Hume, that property depends on the mutual concessions of self-interest, but he saw further that on this basis alone society and traditional morality were in a condition of unstable equilibrium, were in fact founded on injustice and not on justice at all. He perceived no relief from this hazardous condition except through counteracting self-interest by the equally innate and human force of sympathy, which was somehow to be called into action as the volonti generale, or mystical will of the people, embracing and absorbing the wills and desires of individuals into one harmonious purpose.

One step more and we shall have ended this preliminary history of the growth of sympathy as the controlling principle of morals. From Rousseau it passed into Germany and became one of the mainsprings of the romantic movement. You will find its marks everywhere in that literature: in the peculiarly sentimental attitude towards nature, in the impossible yearning of the schone Seelen for brotherhood, in the whole philosophy of feeling. It lurks in Kant's fundamental rule of morality: "Act on a maxim which thou canst will to be law universal;" it lives and finds its highest expression in Schleiermacher's attempt to reunite the individual with the infinite by dissolving the mind in sympathetic contemplation of the flowing universe of things. And in this heated, unwholesome atmosphere of German romanticism sprang up and blossomed our modern ethics of humanitarianism. The theories of socialism are diverse and often superficially contradictory; they profess to stand on a foundation of economic law and the necessity of evolution, but in reality they spring from Rousseau's ideal of sympathy working itself out as a force sufficient in itself to combine the endless oppositions of self-interest in the volonte generale, and from the romantic conception of the infinite as an emotion obtained from surrender of self to the universal flux. From the former come the political schemes of humanitarianism; from the latter its religious sanction and fanatical intolerance.

Part IV

Revised February 3, 2001