« PreviousContinue »
ing sections depend on its being interpreted in one sense exclusively.
Essays I. to IV. inclusively convey the design and contents of the work; my judgment respecting the style, and my defence of myself from the charges of arrogance and presumption. Say rather, that such are the personal threads of the discourse: for it will not have escaped the reader's observation, that even in these prefatory pages principles and truths of general interest form the true contents, and that amid all the usual compliments and courtesies of a first presentation to the reader's acquaintance the substantial object is still to assert the practicability, without disguising the difficulties, of improving the morals of mankind by a direct appeal to their understandings ; to show the distinction between attention and thought, and the necessity of the former as a habit or discipline without which the very word, thinking, must remain a thoughtless substitute for dreaming with our eyes open ; and lastly, the tendency of a certain fashionable style with all its accommodations to paralyze the very faculties of manly intellect by a series of petty stimulants. After this preparation, I proceed at once to lay the foundations coinmon to the whole work by an inquiry into the duty of communicating truth, and the conditions under which it may be communicated with safety, from essay V. to XVI. inclusively. Each essay will, I believe, be found complete in itself, yet an organic part of the whole considered as one disquisition. First, the inexpediency of pious frauds is proved from history, the shameless assertion of the indifference of truth and falsehood exposed to its deserved infamy, and an answer given to the objection derived from the impossibility of conveying an adequate notion of the truths, we may attempt to communicate. The conditions are then detailed, under which, right though inadequate notions may be taught without danger, and proofs given, both from facts and from reason, that he, who fulfils the conditions required by conscience, takes the surest way of answering the purposes of prudence. This is, indeed, the main characteristic of the moral system taught by The Friend throughout, that the distinct foresight of consequences belongs exclusively to the infinite Wisdom which is one with that Almighty Will, on which all consequences depend; but that for man—to obey the simple unconditional commandment of eschewing every act that implies a self-contradiction, or, in other words, to produce and maintain the greatest possible harmony in the component impulses and faculties of his nature, involves the effects of prudence. It is, as it were, prudence in short-hand or cipher. A pure conscience, that inward something, that Osòs olnelos, which being absolutely unique no man can describe, because every man is bound to know, and even in the eye of the law is held to be a person no longer than he may be supposed to know it—the conscience, I say, bears the same relation to God, as an accurate time-piece bears to the sun. The time-piece merely indicates the relative path of the sun, yet we can regulate our plans and proceedings by it with the same confidence as if it was itself the efficient cause of light, heat, and the revolving seasons : on the self-evident axiom, that in whatever sense two things—for instance, A. and C. D. E.,—are both equal to a third 'thing, B., they are in the some sense equal to each other. Cunning is circuitous folly. In plain English, to act the knave is but a roundabout way of playing the fool; and the man, who will not permit himself to call an action by its proper name without a previous calculation of all its probable consequences, may be indeed only a coxcomb, who is looking at his fingers through an operaglass; but he runs no small risk of becoming a knave. The chances are against him. Though he should begin by calculating the consequences with regard to others, yet by the mere habit of never contemplating an action in its own proportions and immediate relations to his moral being, it is scarcely possible but that he must end in selfishness : for the 'you,' and the 'they' will stand on different occasions for a thousand different persons, while the “l' is one only, and recurs in every calculation. Or grant that the principle of expediency should prompt to the same outward deeds as are commanded by the law of reason; yet the doer himself is debased. But if it be replied, that the reaction on the agent's own mind is to form a part of the calculation, then it is a rule that destroys itself in the very propounding, as will be more fully demonstrated in the second or ethical division of The Friend, when I shall have detected and exposed the equivoque between an action and a series of motions, by which the determinations of the will are to be realized in the world of the senses. What modification of the latter corresponds to the former, and is entitled to be called by the same name, will often depend on time, place, persons and circumstances, the consideration of which re
quires an exertion of the judgment; but the action itself remains the same, and like all other ideas pre-exists in the reason, or, in the more expressive and perhaps more precise and philosophical language of St. Paul, in the spirit, unalterable because unconditional, or with no other than that most awful condition, as sure as God liveth, it is so !
These remarks are inserted in this place, because the principle admits of easiest illustration in the instance of veracity and the actions connected with the same, and may then be intelligibly applied to other departments of morality, all of which Woollston indeed considers as only so many different forms of truth and falsehood. So far I treated of oral communication of the truth. The applicability of the same principle is then tried and affirmed in publications by the press, first as between the individual and his own conscience, and then between the publisher and the state : and under this head I have considered at large the questions of a free press and the law of libel, the anomalies and peculiar difficulties of the latter, and the only possible solution compatible with the continuance of the former : solution rising out of and justified by the necessarily anomalous and unique nature of the law itself. I confess that I look back on this discussion concerning the press and its limits with a satisfaction unusual to me in the review of my own labors : and if the date of their first publication (September, 1809) be remembered, it will not perhaps be denied on an impartial comparison, that I have treated this most important subject, so especially interesting in the present time, more fully and more systematically than it had up to that time been. Interim tum recti conscientia, tum illo me consolor, quod optimis quibusque certe non improbamur, fortassis omnibus placituri, simul atque livor ab obitu conquieverit.
Lastly, the subject is concluded even as it commenced, and as beseemed a disquisition placed as the steps and vestibule of the whole work, with an enforcement of the absolute necessity of principles grounded in reason as the basis or rather as the living root of all genuine expedience. Where these are despised or at best regarded as aliens from the actual business of life, and consigned to the ideal world of speculative philosophy and Utopian politics, instead of state wisdom we shall have state-craft, and for the talent of the governor the cleverness of an embarrassed spendthrift—which consists in tricks to shift off difficulties and dan
gers when they are close upon us, and to keep them at arm's length, not in solid and grounded courses to preclude or subdue them. We must content ourselves with expedient-makers—with fire-engines against fires, life-boats against inundations ; but no houses built fire-proof, no dams that rise above the water-mark. The reader will have observed that already has the term, reason been frequently contradistinguished from the understanding and the judgment. If I could succeed in fully explaining the sense in which the word reason is employed by me, and in satisfying the reader's mind concerning the grounds and importance of the distinction, I should feel little or no apprehension concerning the intelligibility of these essays from first to last. The following section is in part founded on this distinction : the which remaining obscure, all else will be so as a system, however clear the component paragraphs may be, taken separately. In the appendix* to my first Lay Sermon, I have, indeed, treated the question at considerable length, but chiefly in relation to the heights of theology and metaphysics. In the next number I attempt to explain myself more popularly, and trust that with no great expenditure of attention the reader will satisfy his mind, that our remote ancestors spoke as men acquainted with the constituent parts of their own moral and intellectual being, when they described one man as "being out of his senses,” another as “out of his wits,” or “ deranged in his understanding," and a third as having “lost his reason.” Observe, the understanding may be deranged, weakened, or perverted; but the reason is either lost or not lost, that is, wholly present or wholly absent.
Man may rather be defined a religious than a rational creature, in regard that in other creatures there may be something of reason, but there is nothing of religion.
If the reader will substitute the word “understanding" for “reason,” and the word “reason” for “ religion,” Harrington has here completely expressed the truth for which I am contending. Man may rather be defined a rational than an intelligent creature, in regard that in other creatures there may be something of understanding, but there is nothing of reason. But that this was Harrington's meaning is evident. Otherwise, instead of comparing two faculties with each other, he would contrast a faculty with one of its own objects, which would involve the same absurdity as if he had said, that man might rather be defined an astronomical than a seeing animal, because other animals possessed the sense of sight, but were incapable of beholding the satellites of Saturn, or the nebulæ of fixed stars. If further confirmation be necessary, it may be supplied by the following reflections, the leading thought of which I remember to have read in the works of a continental philosopher. It should seem easy to give the definite distinction of the reason from the understanding, because we constantly imply it when we speak of the difference between ourselves and the brute creation. No one, except as a figure of speech, ever speaks of an animal reason ;*
* I have this moment looked over a translation of Blumenbach's Physiology, by Dr. Elliotson, which forms a glaring exception, p. 45. I do not know Dr. Elliotson, but I do know Professor Blumenbach, and was an assiduous attendant on the lectures, of which this classical work was the text-book; and I know that that good and great man would start back with surprise and indignation at the gross materialism mortised on to his work: the more so because during the whole period, in which the identification of man with the brute in kind was the fashion of naturalists, Blumenbach