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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN
THE EDINBURGH REVIEW.
DR. PARR. (E. REVIEW, 1802.)
Spital Sermon, preached at Christ Church upon Easter-Tuesday, April 15. 1800. To which are added, Notes by Samuel Parr, LL.D. Printed for J. Mawman in the Poultry. 1801.
WHOEVER has had the good fortune to see Dr. Parr's wig, must have observed, that while it trespasses a little on the orthodox magnitude of perukes in the anterior parts, it scorns even Episcopal limits behind, and swells out into boundless convexity of frizz, the μeya davμa of barbers, and the terror of the literary world. After the manner of his wig, the Doctor has constructed his sermon, giving us a discourse of no common length, and subjoining an immeasurable mass of notes, which appear to concern every learned thing, every learned man, and almost every unlearned man since the beginning of the world.
For his text, Dr. Parr has chosen Gal. vi. 10. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
A great scholar, as rude and violent as most Greek scholars are, unless they happen to be Bishops. He has left nothing behind him worth leaving: he was rather fitted for the law than the church, and would have been a more considerable man, if he had been more knocked about among his equals. He lived with country gentlemen and clergymen, who flattered and feared him.
After a short preliminary comparison between the dangers of the selfish system, and the modern one of universal benevolence, he divides his sermon into two parts: in the first, examining how far, by the constitution of human nature, and the circumstances of human life, the principles of particular and universal benevolence are compatible: in the last, commenting on the nature of the charitable institution for which he is preaching.
The former part is levelled against the doctrines of Mr. Godwin; and, here, Dr. Parr exposes, very strongly and happily, the folly of making universal benevolence the immediate motive of our actions. As we consider this, though of no very difficult execution, to be by far the best part of the sermon, we shall very willingly make some extracts from it.
To me it appears, that the modern advocates for universal philanthropy have fallen into the error charged upon those who are fascinated by a violent and extraordinary fondness for what a celebrated author calls "some moral species." Some men, it has been remarked, are hurried into romantic adventures, by their excessive admiration of fortitude. Others are actuated by a headstrong zeal for disseminating the true religion. Hence, while the only properties, for which fortitude or zeal can be esteemed, are scarcely discernible, from the enormous bulkiness to which they are swollen, the ends, to which alone they can be directed usefully, are overlooked or defeated; the public good is impaired, rather than increased; and the claims that other virtues equally obligatory have to our notice, are totally disregarded. Thus, too, when any dazzling phantoms of universal philanthropy have seized our attention, the objects that formerly engaged it shrink and fade. All considerations of kindred, friends, and countrymen drop from the mind, during the struggles it makes to grasp the collective interests of the species; and when the association that attached us to them has been dissolved, the notions we have formed of their comparative insignificance will prevent them from recovering, I do not say any hold whatsoever, but that strong and lasting hold they once had upon our conviction and our feelings. Universal benevolence, should it, from any strange combination of circumstances, ever become passionate, will, like every other passion, justify itself:" and the importunity of its demands to obtain a
hearing will be proportionate to the weakness of its cause. But what are the consequences? A perpetual wrestling for victory between the refinements of sophistry, and the remonstrances of indignant nature the agitations of secret distrust in opinions which gain few or no proselytes, and feelings which excite little or no sympathy the neglect of all the usual duties, by which social life is preserved or adorned; and in the pursuit of other duties which are unusual, and indeed imaginary, a succession of airy projects, eager hopes, tumultuous efforts, and galling disappointments, such, in truth, as every wise man foresaw, and a good man would rarely commiserate.'
In a subsequent part of his sermon, Dr. Parr handles the same topic with equal success.
'The stoics, it has been said, were more successful in weakening the tender affections, than in animating men to the stronger virtues of fortitude and self-command; and possible it is, that the influence of our modern reformers may be greater, in furnishing their disciples with pleas for the neglect of their ordinary duties, than in stimulating their endeavours for the performance of those which are extraordinary, and perhaps ideal. If, indeed, the representations we have lately heard of universal philanthropy served only to amuse the fancy of those who approve of them, and to communicate that pleasure which arises from contemplating the magnitude and grandeur of a favourite subject, we might be tempted to smile at them as groundless and harmless. But they tend to debase the dignity, and to weaken the efficacy of those particular affections, for which we have daily and hourly occasion in the events of real life. They tempt us to substitute the ease of speculation, and the pride of dogmatism, for the toil of practice. To a class of artificial and ostentatious sentiments, they give the most dangerous triumph over the genuine and salutary dictates of nature. They delude and inflame our minds with pharisaical notions of superior wisdom and superior virtue; and, what is the worst of all, they may be used as "a cloke to us " for insensibility, where other men feel; and for negligence, where other men act with visible and useful, though limited, effect.'
In attempting to show the connexion between par ticular and universal benevolence, Dr. Parr does not appear to us to have taken a clear and satisfactory view of the subject. Nature impels us both to good and bad actions; and, even in the former, gives us no measure