Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

we should be the most inert and soulless of blocks, the shadows of what history records and poetry immortalises, and not men.

Free will is an integral part of the science of man, and may be said to constitute its most important chapter. We might with as much propriety overlook the intelligence of the senses, that medium which acquaints us with an external world or what we call such, we might as well overlook the consideration of man's reason, his imagination or taste, as fail to dwell with earnest reflection and exposition upon that principle which lies at the foundation of our moral energies, fills us with a moral enthusiasm, prompts all our animated exertions on the theatre of the world, whether upon a wide or a narrow scale, and penetrates us with the most lively and fervent approbation or disapprobation of the acts of ourselves and others in which the forwarding or obstructing human happiness is involved.

But, though the language of the necessarian is at war with the indestructible feelings of the human mind, and though his demonstrations will for ever crumble into dust, when brought to the test of the activity of real life, yet his doctrines, to the reflecting and enlightened, will by no means be without their use. In the sobriety of the closet, we inevitably assent to his conclusions ; nor is it easy to conceive how a rational man and a philosopher abstractedly can entertain a doubt of the necessity of human actions. And the number of these persons is perpetually increasing; enlarged and dispassionate views of the nature of man and the laws of the universe are rapidly spreading in the world. We cannot indeed divest ourselves of love and hatred, of the sentiments of praise and blame, and the ideas of virtue, duty, obligation, debt, bond, right, claim, sin, crime, guilt, merit and desert. And, if we could do so, the effects would be most pernicious, and the world be rendered a blank. We shall however unquestionably, as our minds grow enlarged, be brought to the entire and unreserved conviction, that man is a machine, that he is governed by external impulses, and is to be regarded as the medium only through the intervention of which previously existing causes are enabled to produce certain effects. We shall see, according to an expressive phrase, that he “could not help it,” and, of consequence, while we look down from the high tower of philosophy upon the scene of human affairs, our prevailing emotion will be pity, even towards the criminal, who, from the qualities he brought into the world, and the various circumstances which act upon him from infancy, and form his character, is impelled to be the means of the evils, which we view with so profound disapprobation, and the existence of which we so entirely regret.

There is an old axiom of philosophy, which counsels us to “think with the learned, and talk with the vulgar;" and the practical application of this axiom runs through the whole scene of human

affairs. Thus the most learned astronomer talks of the rising and setting of the sun, and forgets in his ordinary discourse that the earth is not for ever at rest, and does not constitute the centre of the universe. Thus, however we reason respecting the attributes of inanimate matter and the nature of sensation, it never occurs to us, when occupied with the affairs of actual life, that there is no heat in fire, and no colour in the rainbow.

In like manner, when we contemplate the acts of ourselves and our neighbours, we can never divest ourselves of the delusive sense of the liberty of human actions, of the sentiment of conscience, of the feelings of love and hatred, the impulses of praise and blame, and the notions of virtue, duty, obligation, right, claim, guilt, merit and desert. And it has sufficiently appeared in the course of this Essay, that it is not desirable that we should do so. They are these ideas to which the world we live in is indebted for its crowning glory and greatest lustre. They form the highest distinction between men and other animals, and are the genuine basis of self-reverence, and the conceptions of true nobility and greatness, and the reverse of these attributes, in the men with whom we live, and the men whose deeds are recorded in the never-dying page of history.

But, though the doctrine of the necessity of human actions can never form the rule of our intercourse with others, it will still have its use. It will moderate our excesses, and point out to us that

R

middle path of judgment which the soundest philosophy inculcates. We shall learn, according to the apostolic precept, to “be angry, and sin not, neither let the sun go down upon our wrath.” We shall make of our fellow-men neither idols to worship, nor demons to be regarded with horror and execration. We shall think of them, as of players, “ that strut and fret their hour upon the stage, and then are heard no more.” We shall “weep, as though we wept not, and rejoice, as though we rejoiced not, seeing that the fashion of this world passeth away.” And, most of all, we shall view with pity, even with sympathy, the men whose frailties we behold, or by whom crimes are perpetrated, satisfied that they are parts of one great machine, and, like ourselves, are driven forward by impulses over which they have no real control.

ESSAY XIII..

OF BELIEF.

One of the prerogatives by which man is eminently distinguished from all other living beings inhabiting this globe of earth, consists in the gift of

reason.

Beasts reason. They are instructed by experience; and, guided by what they have already known of the series of events, they infer from the sense of what has gone before, an assured expectation of what is to follow. Hence, “beast walks with man, joint tenant of the shade;" and their sagacity is in many instances more unerring than ours, because they have no affectation to mislead them; they follow no false lights, no glimmering intimation of something half-anticipating a result, but trust to the plain, blunt and obvious dictates of their simple apprehension. This however is but the first step in the scale of reason, and is in strictness scarcely entitled to the name.

We set off from the same point from which they commence their career. But the faculty of articulate speech comes in, enabling us to form the crude elements of reason and inference into a code. We digest explanations of things, assigning the particulars in which they resemble other classes, and

« PoprzedniaDalej »