Page images

heavily the few who listened might complain of its obscurity and want of interest. · This, it may be objected, is an extreme case. But it is not so for the present purpose. I am speaking of the probability of injurious consequences from the communication of truth. This I have denied, if the right means have been adopted, and the necessary conditions adhered to, for its actual communication. Now the truths—that is, the positions believed by the author to be truths—conveyed in a book are either evident of themselves, or such as require a train of deductions in proof: and the latter will be either such truths as are authorized and generally received ; or such as are in opposition to received and authorized opinions ; or lastly, positions presented as truths for the appropriate test of examination, and still under trial, adhuc in lite. Of this latter class I affirm, that in no one of the three sorts can an instance be brought of a preponderance of ill-consequences, or even of an equilibrium of advantage and injury from a work, in which the understanding alone has been appealed to, by results fairly deduced from just premises, in terms strictly appropriate. Alas! legitimate reasoning is impossible without severe thinking, and thinking is neither an easy nor an amusing employment. The reader, who would follow a close reasoner to the summit and absolute principle of any one important subject, has chosen a chamois-hunter for his guide. Our guide will, indeed, take us the shortest way, will save us many a wearisome and perilous wandering, and warn us of many a mock road that had formerly led himself to the brink of chasms and precipices, or at best in an idle circle to the spot from which he started. But he can not carry us on his shoulders : we must strain our own sinews, as he has strained his; and make firm footing on the smooth rock for ourselves, by the blood of toil from our own feet. Examine the journals of our humane and zealous missionaries in Hindostan. How often and how feelingly do they describe the difficulty of making the simplest chain of reasoning intelligible to the ordinary natives : the rapid exhaustion of their whole power of attention, and with what pain and distressful effort it is exerted, while it lasts. Yet it is amongst individuals of this class, that the hideous practices of self-torture chiefly, indeed almost exclusively, prevail. 0! if folly were no easier than wisdom, it being often so very much more grievous, how certainly might not these miserable men be converted to Christianity? But alas ! to swing by hooks passed through the back, or to walk on shoes with nails of iron pointed upward on the soles, all this is so much less difficult, demands so very inferior an exertion of the will than to think, and by thought to gain knowledge and tranquillity!

It is not true, that ignorant persons have no notion of the advantages of truth and knowledge. They see and confess those advantages in the conduct, the immunities, and the superior pow

most toilsome, or penances the most painful, we should assuredly have as many pilgrims and as many self-tormentors in the service of true religion and virtue, as now exist under the tyranny of Papal or Brahman superstition. This inefficacy of legitimate reason, from the want of fit objects,—this its relative weakness, and how narrow at all times its immediate sphere of action must be,-is proved to us by the impostors of all professions. What, I pray, is their fortress, the rock which is both their quarry and their foundation, from which and on which they are built ?The desire of arriving at the end without the effort of thought and will, which are the appointed means. Let us look backward three or four centuries. Then, as now, the great mass of mankind were governed by the three main wishes, the wish for vigor, of body, including the absence of painful feelings ;-for wealth, or the power of procuring the external conditions of bodily enjoyment,—these during life ; and security from pain and continuance of happiness after death. Then, as now, men were desirous to attain them by some easier means than those of temperance, industry, and strict justice. They gladly therefore applied to the priest, who could insure them happiness hereafter without the performance of their duties here ; to the lawyer who could make money a substitute for a right cause; to the physician, whose medicines promised to take the sting out of the tail of their sensual indulgences, and let them fondle and play with vice, as with a charmed serpent; to the alchemist, whose goldtincture would enrich them without toil or economy; and to the astrologer, from whom they could purchase foresight without knowledge or reflection. The established professions were, without exception, no other than licensed modes of witchcraft. The wizards, who would now find their due reward in Bridewell, and their appropriate honors in the pillory, sat then on episcopal

thrones, candidates for saintship, and already canonized in the belief of their deluded contemporaries; while the one or two real teachers and discoverers of truth were exposed to the hazard of fire and fagot,-a dungeon the best shrine that was vouchsafed to a Roger Bacon* and a Galileo !


Pray, why is it, that people say that men are not such fools now-a-days as they were in the days of yore? I would fain know, whether you would have us understand by this same saying, as indeed you logically may, that formerly, men were fools, and in this generation are grown wise? How many and what dispositions made them fools? How many and what dispositions were wanting to make 'em wise? Why were those fools ? How should these be wise? Pray, how came you to know that men were formerly fools? How did you find that they are now wise? Who made them fools? Who in Heaven's name made us wise? Who d'ye think are most, those that loved mankind foolish, or those that love it wise? How long has it been wise? How long otherwise! Whence proceeded the foregoing folly? Whence the following wisdom? Why did the old folly end now and no later? Why did the modern wisdom begin now and no sooner ? What were we the worse for the former folly? What the better for the succeeding wisdom? How should the ancient folly have come to nothing? How should this same new wisdom be started up and established? Now answer me, an't please you!

RABELAIS' Preface to his 5th Book.

MONSTERS and madmen canonized and Galileo blind in a dungeon !| It is not so in our times. Heaven be praised, that in this respect, at least, we are, if not better, yet better off, than our

* “It is for his country, not his order, to glory in the man whom that order condemned to imprisonment, not for his supposed skill in magic, but for those opinions which he derived from studying the Scriptures, wherein he was versed beyond any other person of his age.”

SOUTHEY's Colloquies, viii. And see the note there.-Ed.

+ This is not strictly accurate. Galileo was sentenced by the Inquisition at Rome, on the 22d of June, 1633; and, although his right eye had been formerly affected, he did not become blind till the end of 1637. His confinement, likewise, in the proper prison of the Inquisition, was merely nominal, although the restrictions under which he was kept to the end of his life, were of the most distressing and injurious description.-Ed.

forefathers. But to what, and to whom (under Providence) do we owe the improvement ? To any radical change in the moral affections of mankind in general ? Perhaps the great majority of men are now fully conscious that they are born with the godlike faculty of reason, and that it is the business of life to develop and apply it ?_The Jacob's ladder of truth, let down from heaven, with all its numerous rounds, is now the common highway, on which we are content to toil upward to the objects of our desires ?—We are ashamed of expecting the end without the means ?-In order to answer these questions in the affirmative, I must have forgotten the animal magnetists ;* the proselytes of Brothers, and of Joanna Southcote; and some thousand fanatics less original in their creeds, but not a whit more rational in. their expectations ; I must forget the infamous empirics, whose advertisements pollute and disgrace all our newspapers, and almost paper the walls of our cities; and the vending of whose poisons and poisonous drams—with shame and anguish be it spoken—supports a shop in every market-town! I must forget that other reproach of the nation, that mother-vice, the lottery ! I must forget, that a numerous class plead prudence for keeping their fellow-men ignorant and incapable of intellectual enjoyments, and the revenue for upholding such temptations as men so ignorant will not withstand,—yes! that even senators and officers of state put forth the revenue as a sufficient reason for upholding, at every fiftieth door throughout the kingdom, temptations to the most pernicious vices, which fill the land with mourning, and fit the laboring classes for sedition and religious fanaticism! Above all I must forget the first years of the French revolution, and the millions throughout Europe who confidently expected the best and choicest results of knowledge and virtue, namely, liberty and universal peace, from the votes of a tumultuous assembly—that is, from the mechanical agitation of the air in a large room at Paris—and this too in the most light, unthinking, sensual, and profligate, of the European nations,—a nation, the very phrases of whose language are so composed, that they can scarcely speak without lying !-No! Let us not deceive ourselves. Like the man who used to pull off his hat with great demonstration of respect whenever he spoke of himself, we are

* Recanted since 1817. After subtracting all exaggerated or doubtful testimonies, the undeniable facts are as important as they are surprising.

fond of styling our own the enlightened age : though as Jortin, I think, has wittily remarked, the golden age would be more appropriate. But in spite of our great scientific discoveries, for which praise be given to whom the praise is due, and in spite of that general indifference to all the truths and all the principles of truth, that belong to our permanent being, and therefore do not lie within the sphere of our senses,—that same indifference which makes toleration so easy a virtue with us, and constitutes nine tenths of our pretended illumination,-it still remains the character of the mass of mankind to seek for the attainment of their necessary ends by any means rather than the appointed ones ; and for this cause only, that the latter imply the exertion of the reason and the will. But of all things this demands the longest apprenticeship, even an apprenticeship from infancy ; which is generally neglected, because an excellence, that may and should belong to all men, is expected to come to every man of its own accord.

To whom then do we owe our meliorated condition ?-To the successive few in every age,-more indeed in one generation than in another, but relatively to the mass of mankind always few,who by the intensity and permanence of their action have compensated for the limited sphere, within which it is at any one time intelligible; and whose good deeds posterity reverences in their results; though the mode, in which we repair the inevitable waste of time, and the style of our additions, too generally furnish a sad proof, how little we understand the principles. I appeal to the histories of the Jewish, the Grecian, and the Roman republics, to the records of the Christian Church, to the history of Europe from the treaty of Westphalia, 1648. What do they contain but accounts of noble structures raised by the wisdom of the few, and gradually undermined by the ignorance and profligacy of the many ? If therefore the deficiency of good, which everywhere surrounds us, originate in the general unfitness and aversion of men to the process of thought, that is, to continuous reasoning, it must surely be absurd to apprehend a preponderance of evil from works which can not act at all except as far as they call the reasoning faculties into full co-exertion with them.

Still, however, there are truths so self-evident, or so immediately and palpably deduced from those that are, or are acknowledged for such, that they are at once intelligible to all men,

« PreviousContinue »