Page images

tual attempts must precede the construction of the magnificent edifice in some distant generation, by a firm and vigorous hand, uninfluenced by the prejudices of speculation or of practice, of sect or of age; and, as far as human infirmity will allow, even by the still more subtle and indelible prejudici's of personal character.

Of a nature very analogous to this moral contest is the struggle between prudence and enthusiasm, which pervades human life, and of which one side is maintained in the three last chapters of this work, with affecting and persuasive eloquence. In public and private life, in literature and art, in legislation and even in religion itself, this dispute is every day reproduced under new forms and names. On this subject, a good understanding between the contending parties is more altainable, though a coincidence. between persons of a different temperament and character could never be more than verbal. Mad. de Staël herself confounds a calm regard to happiness with that gross selfishness, which, as a vice most destructive to happiness, it is the office of the guardian principle of prudence to eradicate. On the other hand, it is among the calmest suggestions of reason, that wherever great obstacles are to be conquered, a great power must be created. There must, therefore, be many cases where prudence justifies the cultivation of enthusiasm. It is evident that no prudence could ever produce heroic sacrifices. It never was the interest of the private soldiers of an army to march into a field of battle. It may, indeed, be their duty. But it would be a strange policy which would prefer a sense of duty in an army, to the enthusiasm of honour or of patriotism. In those ordinary actions of human life which presuppose deliberation, the regard to interest may be generally relied on. In the regular movements of great bodies of men it will maintain its average influence. In whatever must be subjected to uniform rules, it must be extremely considered, because its regularity .compensates for its weakness. Other passions overcome or suspend its power; but their return and movements cannot be foreseen or calculated. Prudence is ever in some degree present, and fills up the vacant place of every exhausted passion. The movements of this principle in pursuit of subsistence and wealth are so regular, that they have bestowed on political economy the character of an exact science. Its uniform presence, as much as its force, obliges the penal lawgiver to found his sanctions upon it.* To this important principle has nature intrusted the protection of society from disorder, and of individuals from daily and hourly waste of their happiness. It guards against evil. To sensibility belongs the privilege of producing what is beautiful and good. From her spring all the affections that sweeten life ;-all the sublime exertions of genius ;—all the losty virtues which shed a glory round human nature. Without the one, society could not be preserved :—without the other, it would not be worth preserving. Both are equally indispensable, though not equally dignified parts of the moral order of the world. But, as a coarse

• Probably Mad. de Staël bas not enough considered those profound and original speculations of Mi. Bentham, which she incidentally controverts. Notwithstanding the unrivalled talent of the editor for clear and lively exposition, they require patient attention. They are the first considerable attempt to lay the foundations of a system of philosophical jurisprudence. That such a work should be begun and completed by the same man, is not consistent with the slow march of the human understanding. They have, in truth, no connexion with the selfish system; ncr do. they exclude the most disinterested and the most ardent affections from influence over conduct. But upon all possible systems, the lawgiver must calmly regard the general interest of society. The most specious objections to Mr. Bentham have arisen from losing sight of his object, which is to present a calculation of pleasures and pains from whatever source) as the basis of general rules of law, not as a guide in the deliberation of an individual concerning the morality of each single action. (See Edinburgh Review, vol. iv. p. 13.)

and brutish selfishness is the natural vice of the vast majority of men, il seems to be evident, that, in all ordinary circumstances, the excess of prudence is more to be dreaded than that of sensibility. The principles of interest and prudence have some analogy to those forces in the material world which are rendered subservieni lo human skill, because they can be ascertained with absolute precision,-and to those simple laws which govern the regular movements of the grandest bodies in nature. : Those of sentiment and enthusiasm have more analogy to the mighty agents, indiscoverable in their nature, conspicuous and tremendous in their effects, invisible and impalpable, which can neither be numbered, weighed, nor measured ;-of which no man can tell whence they come, or whither they go; but which produce the most terrible appearances, and preserve the most beneficial conditions of the material universe ; like the electric power, when its incalculable accumulation and redundance shake the heavens and the earth with tempests; or. like the element, the quality, or the energy which is the unknown cause of heat, which expands matter into those vast bodies of fluid and vapour, which qualify the world to be the habitation of life.

The contest between Scepticism and Dogmatism has a close connexion with one of the most interesting parts of this philosophical and eloquent work. The system of Kant was one of the efforts of philosophy to espel the poison of scepticism which Hume had infused into it. That great speculator had not amused himself, like Bayle, with dialectical exercises, which only inspire a disposilion towards doubt, by diplaying the uncertainty of the opinions most generally received. He aimed at proving, not that nothing had been known, but that nothing could be known; and that, from the very structure of the understanding, we were destined to remain in absolute and universal ignorance. It is true, that a system of universal scepticism can never be more than a mere intellectual amusement; an exercise of subtlety, not without its use in humbling the pride of dogmatism. As the dictates of experience, which regulate conduct, must be the object of belief, all objections which attack them in common with the principles of reasoning must be utterly ineffectual. Whatever attacks every principle of belief, can destroy none. As long as the principles of science are allowed to remain on the same level (be it called certainly or uncertainty) with the maxims of life, the whole system of human conviction must continue undisturbed. When the sceptic boasts of having involved the results of erperience, and the elements of geometry, in the same ruin with the doctrines of religion, or the principles of philosophy, he may be answered, that no dogmatist ever claimed more than the same degree of certainty for these various opinions or conviction, and that his scepticism leaves them in that condition. In plain sense, the answer admits no reply. But the system of Kant and the works of Reid, dissimilar as they are in their form and spirit, were contemporary and independent altempts to defeat scepticism, by weapons more apparently philosophical. Both these philosophers, in the retirement of Northern Universities, began their scientific labours nearly in the same year, by a discussion of the same question that was agitated between the Leibnitzians and Newtonians about force. In a country like Germany, where the use of a dead language, and the separation of the learned class from society, long preserved the scholastic character and style in philosophy, Kant made a premature attempt to trace every part of science to common principles in the human understanding, with the usual destiny of being often compelled to hide in magnificent expressions an ignorance which ought to be acknowledged; but with prodigious comprehension of mind, and extent of accurate knowledge; with the authoritative and dogmatic tone of *a discoverer; with a technical nomenclature, extensive enough to form a new language;-in his moral writings, distinguished by an austere eloquence becoming a teacher of virtue; -in his metaphysical works, characterised by an obscurity which seems, in original thinkers, sometimes to arise from the crowd of ideas struggling for issue ; -and, above all, remarkable perhaps beyond any man since Aristotle, for that genius of system which maintains simplicity of principle amidst the greatest variety of matters, and preserves symmetry and correspondence between the most remote parts of ibe intellectual edifice. In Scotland, where Hutcheson had revived speculative philosophy in a more elegant and popular form, Reid, a patient observer, and an accurate thinker, with an amiable prepossession in favour of useful and revered opinions, with singular caution, modesty, perspicuity, and elegance, composed his Enquiry, on which his fame among philosophers depends; and which is more distinguished, both by originality and error, than his later writings. His language has an unfortunate appearance of appealing to the multitude on the most abstruse subjects of human meditation. He has contributed to render the philosophy of thought more considered as a science of observation; and to check premature and precipitate generalisation. But neither he nor his illustrious followers have sufficiently remembered, that to philosophise is to generalise; that the perfection of science is proportioned to the simplicity of its principles; and that a multiplication of general laws is an avowal of imperfection only better than a groundless boast of perfection. No two writers were ever more unlike; and the disciples of both philosophers will be equally scandalised at the comparison. Yet both were actuated by the same impulse, and aimed at the same end. Long before the appearance of either, a grand defect of the prevalent philosophy had been found by Leibnitz, who of all writers since Bacon most abounds in those fruitful thoughts which arise from a comprehensive glance over the principles of knowledge. The ancient maxim, of which it seems impossible to trace the author, is, “that there is nothing in the understanding which was not previously in the sense.” Leibnitz proposed to add to this maxim, “except the understanding itself;" —and by this short addition he spread a new light over intellectual philosophy.The system of Gassendi, of Hobbes, and of Locke, by the unhappy comparison of the original stale of the mind to blank paper, led its followers to see nothing in the understanding but what came from without. They did not enough consider, if they considered at all, that the very capacity of receiving impressions must be subject to ascertainable rules; that the human understanding has a structure and functions, and laws of action which must regulate its perceptions, and render it capable of experience and of reasoning. These laws of the percipient and intellectual nature must plainly be ultimate, and never can be questioned in discussion, because all discussion is founded upon them. The negleet of them opened the way to scepticism. The extensive technical language of Kant, and the unfortunate term Common Sense, adopted by Reid, both denole the same ultimate laws of thought which mark the boundaries of reasoning, and against which all disputation is a vain mockery. The number of such laws, and the criterion which distinguishes them, are subjects of important disquisition. But all theories of the understanding must either imply or express their existence. That of Hartley and Condillac altempts to reduce them to one, -certainly without success in the present state of knowledge. But if they were reduced to one, that one must be a fact, for the existence of which no proof could be given, and of the nature of which no explanation could be attempted. Whether they were one or a thousand, the controversy between the Dogmatist and the Sceptic would be precisely of the same nature. Universal scepticism involves a contradiction in terms. It is a belief that there can be no belief. It is an attempt of the mind to act without its structure, and by other laws than those to which nature has subjected its operations. No man can be allowed to be an opponent in reasoning who does not admit those principles, without which all reasoning is impossible.* It is indeed a puerile play, to attempt by argument to establish or confute principles, which every step of the argument necessarily presupposes.-He who labours lo establish them, must fall into a vicious circle; and he who attempts lo impugn them, into irreconcilable contradiction.

The reasonings of the Pyrrhonians and the Dogmatists are balanced in a noble passage of Pascal, whose philosophical genius often shines forth with momentary splendour from the thick clouds which usually darkened his great mind. “L'unique fort des Dogmatistes, c'est qu'en parlant de bonne foi et sincèrement, on ne peut douter des principes naturels." -“ Les principes se sentent, les propositions se concluent."-"Il n'y a jamais eu de Pyrrhonien effectif et parfait."-"La nature soutient la raison impuissante."

He concludes with an observation so remarkable for range of mind, and weight of authority, that it seems to us to have a higher character of grandeur, than any passage in human composition which has a mere reference to the operations of the understanding, "La nature confond les Pyrrhoniens, et la raison les Dogmatistes.'



“History,” says Lord Bacon, “is Natural, Civil, or Ecclesiastical, or Literary; whereof the three first I allow as extant, the fourth I note as deficient. For no man hath propounded to himself the general state of learning, to be described and represented from age to age, as many have done the works of nature, and the state civil and ecclesiastical; without which the history of the world seemeth lo me to be as the statue of Polyphemus with his eye out; that part being wanting which doth most show the spirit and life of the person. And yet I am not ignorant, that in divers particular sciences, as of the Jurisconsults, the Mathematicians, the Rhetoricians, the Philosophers, there are set down some small memorials of the schools, -of authors of books; so likewise some barren relations touching the invention of arts or usages. But a just story of learning, containing the antiquities and originals of knowledges, and their sects, their inventions,

This is significantly expressed in the quaint title of an old and rare book, “Sciri sive Sceptices et Scepticorum a jure disputationis Exclusio," by Thomas White, a personage of some cousideration in the history of English philosophy.

+ Dugald Stewart's Introduction to the Encyclopædia, prefixed to the Supplement of the Encyclopædia Britannica.- Vol. xxvii. page 180. September, 1816.

their traditions, their divers administrations and managings, their oppositions, decays, depressions, oblivions, removes, with the causes and occasions of them, and all other events concerning learning throughout the ages of the world, I may truly affirm to be wanting. The use and end of which work I do not so much design for curiosity, or satisfaction of those who are lovers of learning, but chiefly for a more serious and grave purpose, which is this, in few words, that it will make learned men wise in the use and administration of learning.'"-Advancement of Learning, book ii.

Though there are passages in the writings of Lord Bacon more splendid than the above, few, probably, better display the union of all the qualities which characterized his philosophical genius. He had in general inspired a servour of admiration which vents itself in indiscriminale praise, and is very adverse to a calm examination of the character of his understanding, which was very peculiar, and on that account described with more than ordinary imperfection, by that unfortunately vague and weak part of language which attempts to distinguish the varieties of mental superiority. To this cause it may be ascribed, that perhaps no great man has been either more ignorantly censured, or more uninstructively commended. It is easy to describe his transcendant merit in general terms of commendation : for some of his great qualities lie on the surface of his writings. But that in which he most excelled all other men, was in the range and compass of his intellectual view—the power of contemplating many and distant objects together, without indistinctness or confusion-which he himself has called the discursive or comprehensive understanding. This wide-ranging Intellect was illuminated by the brightest Fancy that ever contented itself with the office of only ministering to Reason: and from this singular relation of the two grand faculties of man, it has resulted, that his philosophy, though illustrated still more than adorned by the utmost splendour of imagery, continues still subject to the undivided supremacy of intellect. In the midst

The Latin book De Augmentis, a translation from the published and unpublished English composition of Lord Bacon, made by men of eminent talent, and under his own inspection, may be considered, in respect to the matter, as a second original; but wherever we possess his own diction, we should be onwilling to quote the inadequate expression in which any other man labours to do it justice. In the following instances, however, the Latin version contains passages of which his original English is not preserved :

Ante omnia autem id agi volumus (quod Civilis Historiæ decus est et quasi anima) ut cum erentis causæ copulentur, videlicet ut memorentur naturæ regionum et populorum, idolesque apta et habilis, aut inepta et inhabilis ad disciplinas diversas, accidentia temporum, quæ scientiis adversa fuerint ant propitia; zeli et mixturæ religionum, malitiæ et favores legum, virtutes denique insignes et efficacia quorundam virorum ad scientias promovendas,-et similia. At hæc omnia ita tractari præcipimus ut non criticorum more in laude et censurâ tempus teratur, sed plane historicè res ipsæ narreitur, judicium parcius interponatur.

"De modo hojusmodi historiæ conficiendæ, monemus ut per singulas annorum centurias libri præeipui qui per ea temporis spatia conscripti sunt in consilium adhibeantur, ut ex eorum non perlectione (id enim infinitum esset) sed degustatione, et observatione argumenti, styli, methodi, genius illius temporis literarius, velut incantatione quadam, a morluis evocetur.

Quod ad usum attinet, hæc eo spectant non ut honor literarum et pompa per tot circumfusas imagines celebretur, nec quia, pro flagrantissimo quo literas prosequimur amore, omnia quæ ad earum statum quoque modo pertinent usque ad curiositatem inquirere et scire et conservare avemus, sed ob causam magis seriam et gravem, ea est (ut verbo dicamus) quoniam per talem, qualem descripsimus narrationem, ad virorum doctorum, in doctrinæ usu et administratione prudentiam et solertiam maximam accessionem fieri posse existimamus, et rerum intellectualium, non minus quam civilium, molus et perturbationes, vitiaque et virtutes notari posse, et regimen inde optimum educi et irstitui." - De Augmentis Scientiarum, Lib. II. c. 4.

We have ventured on this long quotation, not only for the valuable additions to the English text which it contains, but for the very striking proof which a comparison of the English and Latin text will afford, of the inferiority of the version in the passages where we have the good fortune to possess the original. Yet we know that Hobbes, one of the best of our writers, was Bacon's favourite translator. III. Aubrey, 602,

« PreviousContinue »