« PreviousContinue »
no intrusion of the vulgar, and where he may enjoy his apotheosis among diagrams which he draws in the eternal snow: but where there is no living thing, nor sustenance for life, and even the vital operation of breathing is uncongenial with the place; where he seems at an infinite distance from the community of man; where the exercise of his moral functions is suspended for want of objects, and where often the whole face of the world, with all its beautiful diversities of form and colour, is intercepted from his view by a wide stratum of clouds, which compels him to be satisfied with looking into empty space. The attainment of absolute certainty in reasoning, is a high triumph of the understanding; but the elation with which the mind surveys that portion of truth which it can ascertain by demonstrative proof, is repressed by observing, that the truths of this order form but a small part of what it is important for us to know, and that they do not involve the most interesting subjects. For the scope of demonstration is too confined to reach to the great questions of morals, of religion, or of political science; nor can it assist us in our inquiries into the events of past ages; in our speculations on our own nature; in our estimate of the pleasures of which that nature is capable; or, in short, in our theory of the nature and means of happiness. Throughout this wide extent of speculation, the truth is to be ascertained by another mode of proof, denominated moral evidence, on the ground of which, our reasonings on almost all subjects, but mathematical ones, must proceed. Mankind therefore in general, and even the cultivated and intellectual part of them, have occasion to bring a thousand, perhaps ten thousand, questions to a decision, on this species of proof, for one which requires or admits a process of demonstration.1 We may be disposed to lament, that the nature of things makes it impossible to npply this most infallible method of decision to incomparably the greatest proportion of the subjects of our knowledge; but this regret for the exclusive nature of the most perfect of mental operations, should make us anxious to attain a finished mode of performing the next, which is of less pure intellectual dignity indeed, but of infinitely greater value, on account of the extent of its application.
In common with every rational man, Mr. Gambier expresses, in his sensible preface, his high respect for demonstrative reasoning; but says, he has had many occasions of observing how little it qualifies a person for forming right opinions on Inpral and practical subjects. Since the methods of demonstration are necessarily confined to scieYice, it is only its spirit, its severe accuracy, that cart be transferred to the investigation jpf these more general subjects. This intellectual severity, carried into moral reasonings, would be of the greatest advantage, provided the inquirer would constantly recollect the nature of his subjects, and let this spirit, operate in the way of producing a vigorous exactness in the developementand com-' bination of such arguments as those subjects admit, instead of exciting an impatience for such, as in their very nature they preclude. And accordingly, several, distinguished mathematicians have been admirably successful in questions of moral evidence. On the other hand, not a few of them, disabled, as it should seem, by their scientific studies, to employ their understanding in any other than a mathematical method, have, with regard to subjects of religion and morals, either reasoned' ill, or abandoned themselves to scepticism. And to one or other of these consequences, but especially the latter, Mr. Gambier thinks every man accustomed to demonstrative reasoning will be liable, if he do not make the nature of moral evidence a distinct and careful study.
Knowing no treatise professedly on the subject, he* wished to delineate a brief and comprehensive scheme; and we think he has executed the design with singular success. Almost every page gives us the impression of a writer who is master of his subject; and one of the most obvious proofs of his being so is, that instead of writing "about it and about it" he dispatches each topic in a few sentences, so simple and perspicuous, that we are scarcely aware of their comprehensiveness, till we ask ourselves whether any thing need to be added. If there be a deficiency, it is in point of exemplification. Of this he is himself aware, and his apology is the want of time. He may have more necessary employments, but we think ha cannot have much more valuable ones, than that of giving the utmost perfection to a work like that before us. Such a portion of. exemplification as would have made the volume a third larger, wouki, besides the effect of amusing, while it instructed, his younger readers, have given the fancy some means of retaining in the understanding those lucid and concise explications, which glance on us, like rays from a "moving mirror, and are instantly gone. It is proper to observe, however, that there is a considerable number of these well-judged exemplifications.
'The work being so compressed an abstract of a most extensive subject, it is impossible to give a summary of its topics, uiiless we had room to insert the whole table of contents, which forms a good analysis. It is divided into five chapters: 1. Oa *he Nature of Moral Evidence, and wherein it differs from Demonstration. 2. On the different Kinds of M'oral Evidence, with Observations on the Weight of each. 3. General Directions relating to Moral Reasoning. 4. Special Direction* relating to each kind of Moral Evidence. 5. Of the Kinds of Evidence of which different subjects admit.
■ We might nearly as well take one page as another, for a specimen of the clear and easy manner of exhibiting the subject. We extract a passage from the chapter on the general directions relating to moral reasoning.
'Some subjects, from their nature, are more capable of being reduced to the test of experience than others. Of many, we have not sufficient opportunities of observation, to warrant a general conclusion; or those opportunities happen at too distant periods to enable us to make a fair comparison of the events; or the facts are involved in too intricate, or perhaps, dissimilar circumstances, to afford any deductions. We ourselves, also, are too inattentive to them while passing, and recollect them too imperfectly afterwards, to form a correct judgment of them. But, if there be any particular subjects, on the probability of which it may be p-'culiarly important to us to decide^ we must apply ourselves to them with more thaa. ordinary care. We must avail ourselves of every opportunity of observing them ourselves, or learning the observations upon them of others. We must not trust to memory, but carefully write down the facts, and all the material circumstances with which they were attended. We must do this from time to time, as we make our observations. Thus- we shall be continually collecting materials, from which a comparison may be made, and a correct judgment formed. For example, if I were desirous of ascertaining whether men were more influenced by a prejudice in favour of old customs, or by a love of novelty, 1 would write down, under separate heads, every instance of the influence of either, with which I met, either by observation, or in conversation, or, in reading; and, at the same time, set down all the, circumstances attending each particular case, as far as I could collect them. Or, if I wished to ascertain, whether mankind are more disposed 'to resist a lawful government, than submissively to endure a tyrannical one, 1 would collect, under separate heads, all the pertinent instances; together with their circumstances, with which I could meet. The greater part of these must necessarily be furnished from history; and therefore, in the course of my historical studies, I should continually keep in mind, that I had such a collection in hand, that I might avail myself of every instance*
■ which occurred Many such questions might be mentioned, on which evidence should be continually collected in the same way. To so laborious a practice, few, perhaps, would be willing to submit. But, it is obvious, that it would enable us to decide questions much more accurately than men usually do. For, a great many of the instances, which are necessary to be considered, in order to a right decision, have passed by them unobserved; many which were observed, are forgotten; and many are not in their recollection, when their determination is mhde: and thus their decision is founded on a few instances, which, from interest or passion, or ■some peculiar circumstances, had fixed themselves in their mind. Decisions, upon so partial a view of a question, must generally be erroneous. If questions occur, on which we have made no collections, or i f we cannot bring ourselves to the practice of so laborious a method as that which ha« been just mentioned, we ought to recollect, as fairly and clearly as possible, all the instance* of similar caest, which have come to our knowledge; that our decisions may, as much as possible, be founded upon experience. For, thus our judgment, having lomething to direct it, will be left less a€ the mercy of our interests and affections, and, consequently, its decisions will be more likely to be correct.' pp. 66—68.
When considering the influence of testimony on our belief, the author is inclined to coincide with Dr. Reid's opinion, "that there are two principles implanted incur nature, which correspond with each other: first, a propensity to speak the truth.; and secondly, a disposition to confide in the veracity of others." p. 25.
]t may be impossible to prove the non-existence of these specific original principles, in the constitution of our nature; because the human mind cannot be made a subject of investigation, till after it has begun to pass under those impressions, which may produce the appearance of a distinct specific principle, by giving a specific determination to a general one. But we think the experience of children, (for in the very worst society, every child probably hears a hundred truths for one falsehood,) and the incomparably greater facility of relating from memory than from invention, are quite sufficient to account for the tendencies to credulity and veracity, without supposing distinct principles in the constitution of the mind; and if these causes are competent to the effects, it is unpbilosophical to seek for others. The author, however, rests no particular weight on the opinion which he here adopts, and it occupies but a page or two.
We hope to derive essential benefit from Mr. G.'s performance, and we recommend our readers, especially of the younger class, to peruse it again and again, as an intellectual schoolbook, a kind of grammar of sound reasoning on practical subjects.
Art. XI. An Antidote to the Miseries of Human Life, in the History of the Widow Placid and her Daughter Rachel. 12mo. pp. 142. Price 3s. 6d. Williams and Smith. 1806.
"'T'HE first work of the age," says a conceited young office*, who makes an early appearance hi the scene before us," is, the Miseries of Human Life." "Very true," replied his aunt, a fashionable elderly maiden lady, " I doat on the miseries, and feel at every pore the distresses of Mr. Sensitive." p. 10. Accordingly, these genteel people having condescended to travel in a stage-coach, their companions, "were compelled to hear the word misery dinned in their ears continually by the Captain or Miss Finakin. Every little accident was pronounced a misery, and, in short, to talk of misery seemed the height of the fashion." p. 47.
We do not doubt that such things are; and are therefore glad
to see the subject taken up by the sensible and amiable heroine , of this tale.
'" I perceive, observed Mrs. Placid, that the book is designed to burlesque the petty troubles of life, and I wish the readers may so apply it, as to derive a good moral, and be led from it to see the extreme folly of suffering their tempers to be injured by such ridiculous evils." "Ridiculous! do you call them," said Miss Finahln, " I'm sure they are enough to overwhelm any human being."—" Oh friend, don't talk so vainly," replied Mrs. Placid, " lest God in his providence, should see fit (to chastise thee with real afflictions." pp. 13, 13.
Of these, Mrs. P. has endured no common share; and having found an antidote, to them in real religion, she readily complies with a request, from the more rational division of her fellow passengers, to relate the principal events of her own life. The detail occupies a long day's journey, in a very profitable and agreeable manner. Weariness is precluded, by the general interest, and occasional pathos, of the narrative; and by temporary interruptions, which naturally occur from events on the road. Considerable naivete is given to the story, by its being assigned to a female friend; and the probability of a harangue, so long, and so well connected, is strengthened by her talents and habits, as a public speaker. She had seen too much of human life, and had felt too much of genuine piety, to rank among the bigots of her party; at the same time that she betrays a natural partiality to its. distinguishing characteristics. To this, alone, can be ascribed her reiterated applause of Charles II., the most unprincipled man, perhaps, that ever reigned. To the same cause, we are compelled to attribute the following statement; which, as the author is a party con-^ cernedr we extract, for the consideration of our readers.
'"Would we could persuade our young friends," said Mrs. Placid, to> lay a foundation of true wisdom for the support of their declining years! They would then be in possession of an antidote for one of the miseries of human life." "I have heard the system of education adopted by your sect much commended, madam," said 1. "We pay great attention to this matter," replied Mrs. P. "and I believe most unprejudiced persons will allow, that our youth are in general well informed, upon history, morals, and I trust I may add religion." p. 41.
In one respect we can add our cordial commendation, to that which has pretty generally been bestowed on the educational system of the Quakers. The tendency that it has, to lay an early restraint on the passions, which are too frequently fostered by other systems, is in our esteem its highest excellence. We are not aware that it exceeds the common standard, in promoting the knowledge of history or morals, except with regard to their peculiar tenets on these subjects. Religion is never likely to be taught, farther than it is understood and