On Envy by Dr.
Envy is almost the only vice which is practicable at all times,
and in every place—the only passion which can never lie quiet
for want of irritation; its effects, therefore, are everywhere
discoverable, and its attempts always to be dreaded.
It is impossible to mention a name, which any advantageous
distinction has made eminent, but some latent animosity will burst
out. The wealthy trader, however he may abstract himself from public
affairs, will never want those who hint with Shylock, that ships are
but boards, and that no man can properly be termed rich whose fortune
is at the mercy of the winds. The beauty adorned only with the
unambitious graces of innocence and modesty, provokes, whenever she
appears, a thousand murmurs of detraction and whispers of suspicion.
The genius, even when he endeavours only to entertain with pleasing;
images of nature, or instruct by uncontested principles of science,
yet suffers persecution from innumerable critics, whose acrimony is
excited merely by the pain of seeing others pleased—of hearing
applauses which another enjoys.
The frequency of envy makes it so familiar that it escapes our
notice; nor do we often reflect upon its turpitude or malignity, till
we happen to feel its influence. When he that has given no
provocation to malice, but by attempting to excel in some useful art,
finds himself pursued by multitudes whom he never saw with
implacability of personal resentment; when he perceives clamour and
malice let loose upon him as a public enemy, and incited by every
stratagem of defamation; when he hears the misfortunes of his family
or the follies of his youth exposed to the world; and every failure
of conduct, or defect of nature, aggravated and ridiculed; he then
learns to abhor those artifices at which he only laughed before, and
discovers how much the happiness of life would be advanced by the
eradication of envy from the human heart.
Envy is, indeed, a stubborn weed of the mind, and seldom yields to
the culture of philosophy. There are, however, considerations which,
if carefully implanted, and diligently propagated, might in time
overpower and repress it, since no one can nurse it for the sake of
pleasure, as its effects are only shame, anguish, and perturbation.
It is, above all other vices, inconsistent with the character of a
social being, because it sacrifices truth and kindness to very weak
temptations. He that plunders a wealthy neighbour, gains as much as
he takes away, and improves his own condition in the same proportion
as he impairs another's; but he that blasts a flourishing
reputation, must be content with a small dividend of additional fame,
so small as can afford very little consolation to balance the guilt
by which it is obtained.
I have hitherto avoided mentioning that dangerous and empirical
morality, which cures one vice by means of another. But envy is so
base and detestable, so vile in its original, and so pernicious in
its effects, that the predominance of almost any other quality is to
be desired. It is one of those lawless enemies of society, against
which poisoned arrows may honestly be used. Let it therefore be
constantly remembered, that whoever envies another, confesses his
superiority; and let those be reformed by their pride, who have lost
Almost every other crime is practised by the help of some quality
which might have produced esteem or love, if it had been well
employed; but envy is a more unmixed and genuine evil; it pursues a
hateful end by despicable means, and desires not so much its own
happiness as another's misery. To avoid depravity like this, it
is not necessary that any one should aspire to heroism or sanctity;
but only that he should resolve not to quit the rank which nature
assigns, and wish to maintain the dignity of a human being.