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nexion with it they are indebted for a great part of the interest and favor wherewith their publication has been received.
There are those, who, filled with the spirit of an age fond of exaggerating the merits and successes of its own sons, while it regards the lights of a former generation with a supercilious and hypercritical air, can see nothing but the marked defects of Paley's mind and writings, and are wholly unable to account for his extraordinary influence and popularity. That many acute and philosophical treatises on the same subject, replete with the learning and science of the present day, are already becoming the property of spiders and trunk-makers, while a writer who had no genius for metaphysics, and who committed blunders in speculation which tyros can laugh at now-a-days, is universally read and admired, is for such critics a puzzling and mortifying fact. There is no physic that can purge away self-conceit, and no logic that can disarm or silence prejudice. We might else hope, that a fair consideration of the strong and weak points of this author, would clear up some difficulties in this problem, and assist such individuals in reconciling their theory with the facts in the case. But though it may not shake preconceived opinions, or put an end to cavilling, it may serve to place in a clearer light the questions in dispute, and supply some hints for a general solution of them. An attempt to define with accuracy the characteristics of a writer, and the nature and scope of the argument which he employed, may remove some prevailing misapprehensions respecting both.
The three principal works of Paley, his “Moral Philosophy,” “ Evidences of Christianity,” and “ Natural Theology," appear to be animated with nearly the same purpose, and executed on a very similar plan. The aim is entirely a practical one, the writer desiring to produce a particular effect upon his readers, and keeping this end in view throughout with a remarkable unity, both of design and performance. And a great part of the effect which his works produce is probably due to the clear manifestation of this simplicity of purpose. The reader perceives at once, that the author is honest; is not playing with him ; is not thinking of his own appearance or reputation ; is not desirous of displaying his stores of learning and science, or of exciting admiration by his eloquence, the subtilties of his reasoning, or the originality of his views. He goes straight forward to his object, to convince his readers of some great truth, or to persuade them to a certain course of conduct. There is none of the sensitiveness of an author about him ; - none of that petty feeling, which is nervously alive to a charge of plagiarism, but seeks every opportunity to pilfer without being detected; which will set forward a poor or weak argument in preference to a better one, because the former is all his own, while some one has used the latter before him. All was manliness and fair-dealing on the part of Paley. His inquiry respecting an argument or a remark was not, whether it was new, or bore the appearance of ingenuity, or opened a field for eloquent amplification ; — but whether it was effective ; whether it advanced his main, his single purpose. He took his materials wherever he could find them, no source being too suspicious, or too low, or too common, provided that it afforded matter, which furthered his ends. Consequently, there are few works which appear, at first sight, to contain so little that is new, while there are none wherein the subject is treated with such real originality. It is an old remark, that his “Evidences of Christianity are a mere compilation from Lardner, and that his “ Natural Theology” is founded upon the works of Ray and Derham. In one sense this is true, for he made very liberal use of these writers. In another, it is false, for the great merits of his works can be traced to no predecessor, and he imitated no one. The borrower, the imitator, is detected and disgraced, for he can never surpass one whom he follows, and the original must at last assert its own superior worth. But Paley has wholly supplanted the very authors to whom he is most indebted. His books have pushed Lardner, and Ray, and Derham off the shelves, or consigned them to those persons, who hope to glean a little more in the field which he worked to such marvellous advantage.
It may seem strange to put forward honesty as one of the great merits of Paley, and the main source of his popularity and influence. But the truth is, that this quality is far more rare among the writers on such subjects, than is commonly imagined. Men have published works on natural theology, not to prove the existence of a God, but to show their own metaphysical acumen ; nay, sometimes they have written thein only to disprove the commcn notions on the subject, and to manufacture a deity suited to their own purposes, and consonant with their philosophical system. They have filled huge tomes with the evidences of Christianity, which should have been lettered on the backs, “ Proofs of the Author's Erudition." This same quality of perfect honesty, this forgetfulness of self, and entire devotion to the avowed object, whether it be the pursuit of truth, or the inculcation of virtue, can be attributed to but very few of the great writers and thinkers of any age. It manifests itself in simplicity and raciness of style, and earnestness of manner, which produce their effect not merely on a few individuals or on a particular class, but work equally upon the minds of all persons, and exert an influence, that, in breadth and depth, appears wholly disproportionate to the means employed. An indefinable charm runs through books composed in this spirit, which enlisis a vast majority of minds in their favor, in spite of the faults, numerous and glaring though they be, which keen-eyed criticism detects, and malevolent or envious feelings expose. And the attraction continues, moreover, for an indefinite period; for, not being dependent merely upon novelty, it does not disappear with the first gloss.
Paley's object, we have said, was a practical one. He was far less an inquirer after truth, than a teacher of virtue. His works were not written for the discovery and diffusion of new truths, but for the establishment and inculcation of old ones.
He wrote, not to satisfy or amuse the learned and critical few, but to guide and instruct the many; and the effect, which he aimed to produce, must be estimated quite as much by the quantity, as the quality. In this distinction, we apprehend, may be found a key to his most marked excellences and defects. Hence, that unrivalled clearness of statement, that terseness of language, that abundance of forcible but homely illustration, that close and orderly array of argument, and those brief, but nervous touches of eloquence, with which the whole composition is seasoned.
To the same cause may be traced his principal faults ;— his abandonment of the more abstruse parts of the subject, his deficiency in subtile reasoning, his dislike of metaphysical abstractions, his want of ideality and enthusiasm, as shown by the adoption of a somewhat plain and coarse standard of virtue, and in opposing the allurements of vice by purely selfish considerations. It may be said, that, with such characteristics, his works are fitted only for popular use, and are unworthy of consideration in company with the learned and scientific treatises, to which No, 114,
the world is indebted for the real advancement of truth. This remark would apply, undoubtedly, to writings conceived on the same plan, but executed with inferior ability. But the excellence of his productions has raised them out of the sphere for which they seem to be designed, and has subjected them to a species of criticism, which should be reserved for works of an entirely different character. We speak of the sphere for which they seem to be designed, for, notwithstanding their grave defects, they exert great influence upon all classes of readers, and Paley himself certainly aimed at something higher than writing a book merely for the uninstructed multitude. The attractions of his style, and the sort of argument that he employed, are so powerful toward conviction, that the mind of any reader is carried away by them perforce, in spite of the gaps and errors, which may be discovered on a critical examination, but which, after all, are only of secondary importance. The influence of his manner in this respect may be compared to that of a clear statement of facts by a plain speaker, which often destroys the effect of the highest flights of eloquence.
It has been frequently said, that his mind had little power of generalizing, and was wholly unfitted for metaphysical speculations. To this remark in its whole compass we do not assent, for there are not a few passages in his works, which betray no mean power of refined and accurate reasoning, of subtile analysis, and, at times, of forming the most comprehensive views. But these qualities are not predominant, and that for the most obvious reason, they were not called into play by the execution of his design. Their frequent exercise would have marred his chief purpose, to produce a wide effect by adapting his work to the taste and comprehension of all. Still further ; in reference to the book in which the absence of these qualities has been most complained of, his “ Natural Theology,” we must be permitted to maintain, without any disrespect for metaphysics, that Paley's course was not only the best adapted to his purpose, but that it is the only true and proper method ; that, in the main body of the argument, the refinements and abstractions of the metaphysician are wholly out of place, are easily opposed by weapons of the same character and equal force, and can never lead to any satisfactory result. We say, in the main body of the argument, for there are branches of the
subject, that must be treated after the manner of Clarke, or not at all. Far the greater part of Paley's book is occupied with proving the existence and goodness of the Deity; and, for establishing these points, we maintain that his mode of reasoning is the only correct and satisfactory one, that has ever been proposed. Of course, the argument is his only by adoption ; for it is substantially the same with that of Socrates and Cicero, of Bacon and Locke, and, as we verily believe, it has constituted the only substantial ground of belief in the mind of every well-informed theist, that ever lived. We propose to defend this position at some length, but we must now return for a moment to our immediate subject, the peculiarities of the mind and writings of Paley.
The practical and Socratic turn of the writer's mind, and his aversion to general speculations, appear most obviously in his book on Moral Philosophy, which, able as it is, is far more exceptionable in theory than either of his subsequent publications. It appears difficult to account for the fact, that one of such pure intentions and character could contrive a system of morals, that is so unsound in doctrine and pernicious in its results. We refer only to the definition of virtue, on which the work is based, for the subsequent portions of the volume, relating entirely to practical ethics, are nearly faultless in design and admirably executed. The definition consists of three clauses, in each of which a grave error is involved. “ Virtue consists in doing good to mankind, in obedience to the will of God, and for the sake of everlasting happiness.” It is enough to say, that benevolence is not the whole duty of man, that right is of inherent and necessary obligation, anterior to all command, and that a selfish regard to our future welfare, far from constituting the only proper motive, vitiates the whole act, and is destructive of the very essence of virtue. But the error of forming such a grossly erroneous definition is palliated, when we observe, that benevolence is among the most important and comprehensive of all our duties, and one which most needs to be stimulated ; that the divine command supplies the most imposing and efficient of all sanctions to the moral law; and that looking to reward only in a future life is such a refined and pure regard for our own happiness, that it hardly deserves the name of selfishness. This account of virtue, therefore, though wholly erroneous in theory, may easily be mistaken for a