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THE

BRITISH PLUTARCH.

PLUTARCH.

SIR MATTHEW HALE.*

[1609—1676.]

IT has been considered as no small argument in favour of Christianity, that it has found among it's ablest defenders those, who cannot be supposed to have been influenced by any other motive than a conviction of it's truth. To the objections of the infidel, founded upon the selfishness of it's general advocates, not only the learning and the genius, but (perhaps, still more) the disinterestedness of Newton, and Boyle, and Locke have invariably supplied a powerful answer. May it not then be esteemed a considerable advantage to the cause, to be able to include the name of Sir Matthew Hale in this illustrious list? His admirable sagacity and strict impartiality in the investigation of truth, and his habitual

* AUTHORITIES. General Biographical Dictionary ;i Biographia Britannica ; Burnet's Life of Hale; and Thirlwall's Edition of his • Moral and Religious Works.' VOL, IV.

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diligence in examining the force of evidence, confer a peculiar and irresistible force upon his testimony. Men, who might peruse the writings of ecclesiastics upon the subject with a prejudiced eye, cannot be insensible to the authority of one, whose natural constitution, profession, and integrity alike raised him above suspicion; and who was not less distinguished by the solidity of his judgement and the acuteness of his discrimination, than by his constant strain of industry, piety, and virtue.*

In

* I cannot refrain from attaching in a note a most splendid pasa sage from Mr. Erskine's Speech upon. Paine's Age of Reason, though perhaps familiar to many of my readers : "_But it seems this is an Age of Reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived, that are to dissipate the errors, which have overspread the past generations of ignorance. The believers in Christianity are many; but it belongs to the few, that are wise, to correct their credulity. Belief is an act of reason; and superior reason may, therefore, dictate to the weak. running the mind along the list of sincere and devout Christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this new flood of light. But the subject is too aweful for irony. I will speak plainly, and directly. Newton was a Christian : Newton, whose mind burst forth from the fetters fastened by nature upon our finite conceptions; Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy, not those visionary and arrogant presumptions which too often usurp it's name, but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathematics which like figures cannot lie; Newton, who carried the line and rule to the uttermost barriers of creation, and explored the principle, by which all created matter exists and is held together.

“ But this extraordinary man, in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked perhaps the errors, which a minuter examination of the created things on this earth might have taught him. What shall then be said of the great Mr. BOYLE, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the inanimate:

This ornament of the English Bench,

6 in whom
Our British Thermis gloried with just cause,
Immortal Hale! for deep discernment praised
And sound integrity, not more than famed
For sanctity of manners undefild;'

and who has been pronounced by a legal authority

substances which the foot treads upon ? Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine, to

• Look through Nature up to Nature's God:'

Yet the result of all his contemplations was, the most confirmed and devout belief in all, which the other holds in contempt as despicable and drivelling superstition.

“ But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of due attention to the foundations of human judgement, and the structure of that understanding which God has given us for the investigation of truth. Let that question be answered by Mr. Locke, who to the highest pitch of devotion and adoration was a Christian: Mr. Locke, whose office was to detect the errors of thinking by going up to the very fountains of thought, and to direct into the proper track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by showing him it's whole process from the first perceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratiocination; putting a rein upon false opinion, by practical rules for the conduct of human judgement.

“ But these men, it may be said, were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets unaccustomed to the traffic of the world, and to the laws which practically regulate mankind.' Gentlemen, in the place where we now sit to administer the justice of this great country, the never-to-be-forgotten Sir MATTHEW HALE presided; whose faith in Christianity is an exalted commentary upon it's truth and reason, whose life was a glorious example of it's fruits, and whose justice, drawn from the pure fountain of the Christian Dispensation, will be in all ages a subject of the highest reverence and admiration. “ But it is said by the author, that the Christian fable is “one of the greatest Judges that ever sat in Westminster Hall, as competent to express as he was able

but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may be easily detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the heathens. Did Milton understand those mythologies? Was he less versed, than Mr. Paine, in the superstitions of the world? No. They were the subject of his immortal song: and though shut out from all recurrence to them, he poured them forth from the stores of a memory rich with all that man ever knew, and laid them in their order as the illustration of real and exalted faith, the unquestionable source of that fervid genius which has cast a kind of shade upon all the after-works of

man:

• He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time-
The living throne, the sapphire blaze,
Where angels tremble while they gaze;
He saw, but blasted with excess of light,
Closed his eyes in endless night.'

But it was the light of the body only, that was extinguished: the celestial light shone inward,' and enabled him to

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The result of his thinking was, nevertheless, not quite the same as the author's before us. The mysterious Incarnation of our Blessed Saviour (which this work, blasphemes in words so wholly unfit for the mouth of a Christian, or for the ear of a Court of Justice, that I dare not and will not give them utterance) Milton made the grand conclusion of his · Paradise Lost,' the rest from his finished labours, and the ultimate hope, expectation, and glory of the world:

• A virgin is his mother, but his sire
The Power of the Most High; he shall ascend
The throne hereditary, and bound his reign
With earth's wide bounds, his glory with the heavens.'

The immortal poet, having thus put into the mouth of the

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