There is a spider crawling along the matted floor of the room where I sit; he runs with heedless, hurried haste, he hobbles awkwardly toward me, he stops - he sees the giant shadow before him, and, at a loss whether to retreat or proceed, meditates his huge foe - but as I do not start up and seize upon the straggling caitiff, as he would upon a hapless fly within his toils, he takes heart, and ventures on with mingled cunning, impudence, and fear.
As he passes by me, I lift up the matting to assist his escape, am glad to get rid of the unwelcome intruder, and shudder at the recollection after he is gone. A moralist a century ago would have crushed the little reptile to death - my philosophy has gotted beyond that - I bear the creature no ill will, but still I hate they very sight of it.
The spirit of malevolence survives the practical exertion of it. We learn to curb our will and keep overt actions within the bounds of humanity, long before we can subdue our sentiments and imaginations to the same mild tone. We give up the external demonstration, the brute violence, but cannot part with the essence or principle of hostility. We do not tread upon the poor little animal in question (that seems barbarous and pitiful!) but we regard it with a sort of mystic horror and superstitious loathing. It will take another hundred years of fine writing and hard thinking to cure us of the prejudice, and make us feel toward this ill-omened tribe with something of "the milk of human kindness," instead of their own shyness and venom.
Nature seems (the more we look into it) made up of antipathies: Without something to hate, we should lose the very spring of thought and action. Life would turn to a stagnant pool, were it not ruffled by the jarring interests, the unruly passions, of people. The white streak in our own fortunes is brightened (or just rendered visible) by making all around it as dark as possible: so the rainbow paints its form upon the cloud. Is it pride? Is it envy? Is it the force of contrast? Is it weakness or malice? But so it is, that there is a secret affinity with, a hankering after, evil in the human mind, and that it takes a perverse, but a fortunate delight in mischief, since it is a never-failing source of satisfaction.
Pure good soon grows insipid, wants variety and spirit. Pain is bittersweet, which never surfeits. Love turns, with a little indulgence, to indifference or disgust: hatred alone is immortal. Do we not see this priciple at work everywhere? Animals torment and worry one another without mercy: children kill flies for sport: everywhere reads the accidents and offences in a newspaper as the cream of the jest: a whole town runs to be present at a fire, and the spectator by no means exults to see it extinguished. It is better to have it so, but it diminishes the interest; and our feelings take part with our passions rather than with our understandings. People assemble in crowds, with eager enthusiasm, to witness a tragedy; but if there were an execution going forward in the next street, the theatre would be left empty...
We have always a quantity of superfluous bile upon the stomach, and want an object to let it out upon. How loath were we to give up our pious belief in ghosts and witches because we liked to persecute the one and frighten ourselves to death with the other! It is not the quality so much as the quantity of excitement that we are anxious about: We cannot bear a state of indifference and ennui: the mind seems to abhor a vacuum as much as ever nature was supposed to do.
Excerpt by William Hazlitt(1778-1830)