« PreviousContinue »
it ought to know best—itself, and finds there the most inscrutable of all mysteries,—when we reflect that when asked to declare what itself is, it is obliged to confess that it knows nothing about the matter—nothing either of its own essence or its mode of operation,—that it is sometimes inclined to think itself material, and sometimes immaterial—that it cannot quite come to a conclusion whether the body really exists, or is a phantom, or in what way (if the body really exists) the intimate union between the two is maintained,—when we see it perplexed beyond expression, even to conceive how these phenomena can be reconciled —proclaiming it to be an almost equal contradiction to suppose that matter can think, or the soul be material, or a connection maintained between two totally different substances, and yet admitting that one of these must be true, though it cannot satisfactorily determine which,—when we reflect on all this, surely we cannot but feel that the spectacle of so ignorant a Being refusing to believe a proposition, merely because it is above its comprehension, is, of all paradoxes, the most paradoxical, and of all absurdities, the most ludicrous.' (Pages 219, 220.)
'There is nothing makes a man suspect much, more than to know little; and, therefore, men should remedy suspicion by procuring to know more.'
This is equally true of the suspicions that have reference to things as of persons. I extract a passage bearing upon this point, from the Cautions for the Times:—
'Multitudes are haunted by the spectres, as it were, of vague surmises and indefinite suspicions, which continue thus to haunt them, just because they are vague and indefinite,—because the mind has never ventured to look them boldly in the face, and put them into a shape in which reason can examine them.
'Now, would it not be an act of great charity towards such persons to persuade them to cast away their unreasonable timidity, and scrutinize such objections, instead of trying to banish them by force? For though, no doubt, some difficulties and objections will always remain that cannot be directly cleared up or answered, yet the vastly greatest number of seeming objections and difficulties can be satisfactorily removed by careful examination and increased knowledge; and the experience
of this will lead us to be confident that, if we could proportionately enlarge our faculties and acquirements (which is what we may hope for in a better world), the rest would vanish also. And, in the meanwhile, it is of great importance to know exactly what they are, lest our fancies should unduly magnify their number and weight; and also in order to make us see that they are as nothing in comparison of the still greater difficulties on the opposite side,—namely, the objections which we should have to encounter, if we rejected Christianity.
'Well, but, ' it is said, 'though that course may be the best for well-read and skilful Divines, it is better not to notice objections generally, for fear of alarming and unsettling the minds of plain unlearned people, who had probably never heard of anything of the kind. Let them continue to read their Bible without being disturbed by any doubts or suspicions that might make them uneasy.'
'Now, if in some sea-chart for the use of mariners, the various rocks and shoals which a vessel has to pass in a certain voyage, were to be wholly omitted, and no notice taken of them, no doubt many persons might happen to make the voyage safely, and with a comfortable feeling of security, from not knowing at all of the existence of any such dangers. But suppose some one did strike on one of these rocks, from not knowing—though the makers of the chart did—of its existence, and consequently perished in a shipwreck which he might have been taught to avoid,—on whose head would his blood lie?
'And again, if several voyagers came to suspect, from vague rumours, that rocks and shoals (perhaps more formidable than the real ones) did lie in their course, without any correct knowledge where they lay, or how to keep clear of them, then, so far from enjoying freedom from apprehension, they would be exposed to increased alarm—and much of it needless alarm,—without being, after all, preserved from danger.
'And so it is in the present case. Vague hints that learned men have objected to such and such things, and have questioned this or that, often act like an inward slow-corroding canker in the minds of some who have never read or heard anything distinct on the subject; and who, for that very reason, are apt to imagine these objections, &c., to be much more formidable than they really are. For there are people of perverse mind, who, really possessing both learning and ingenuity, will employ these to dress up in a plausible form something which is, in truth, perfectly silly: and the degree to which this is sometimes done, is what no one can easily conceive without actual experience and examination.
'It is, therefore, often useful, in dealing even with the unlearned, to take notice of groundless and fanciful theories and interpretations, contained in books which probably most of them will never see, and which some of them perhaps will never even hear of; because many persons are a good deal influenced by reports, and obscure rumours, of the opinions of some supposed learned man, without knowing distinctly what they are; and are likely to be made uneasy and distrustful by being assured that this or that has been disputed, and so and so maintained, by some person of superior knowledge and talents, who has proceeded on ' rational' grounds; when, perhaps, they themselves are qualified by their own plain sense to perceive how ir-rational these fanciful notions are, and to form a right judgment on the matters in question.
'Suppose you were startled in a dark night by something that looked like a spectre in a winding-sheet,—would not he who should bring a lantern, and show you that it was nothing but a white cloth hanging on a bush, give you far better encouragement than he who merely exhorted you to 'look another way, keep up your heart, whistle, and pass on V'
No avowedly anti-christian advocate is half so dangerous as those professed believers who deprecate and deride all study of evidence,—all endeavour to ' prove all things, and hold fast that which is good, ' and to be always 'ready to give a reason of the hope that is in us.''
1 See Elements of Logic, Appendix in.
ESSAY XXXII. OF DISCOURSE.
SOME in their discourse desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgment, in discerning what is true; as if it were a praise to know what might be said, and not what should be thought. Some have certain commonplaces and themes, wherein they are good, and want variety; which kind of poverty is for the most part tedious, and, when it is once perceived, ridiculous. The honourablest part of the talk is to give the occasion; and again to moderate and pass to somewhat else, for then a man leads the dance. It is good in discourse, and speech of conversation, to vary and intermingle speech of the present occasion with arguments, tales with reasons, asking of questions with telling of opinions, and jest with earnest; for it is a dull thing to tire, and as we say now, to jade1 anything too far. As for jest, there be certain things which ought to be privileged from it—namely, religion, matters of state, great persons, any man's present business of importance, and any case that deserveth pity; yet there be some that think their wits have been asleep, except they dart out somewhat that is piquant, and to the quick—that is a vein which would be bridled:— •
'Parce puer stimulis, et fortius ntere loris.'s And, generally, men ought to find the difference between saltness and bitterness. Certainly, he that hath a satirical vein, as he maketh others afraid of his wit, so he had need be afraid of others' memory. He that questioneth much shall learn much, and content much, but especially if he apply his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asketh, for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge; but let his questions not be troublesome, for that is fit for a poser ;3 and let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak—nay, if there be any that would reign and take up all the time, let him find means to take them off, and bring others on, as musicians used to do with those that dance too long galliards.1 If you dissemble sometimes your knowledge of that3 you are thought to know, you shall be thought, another time, to know that you know not. Speech of a man's self ought to be seldom, and well chosen. I knew one was wont to say in scorn, 'He must needs be a wise man, he speaks so much of himself/—and there is but one case wherein a man may commend himself with a good grace, and that is in commending virtue in another, especially if it be such a virtue whereunto himself pretendeth.3 Speech of touch4 towards others should be sparingly used; for discourse ought to be as a field, without coming home to any man. I knew two noblemen, of the west part of England, whereof the one was given to scoff, but kept ever royal cheer in his house; the other would ask of those that had been at the other's table, 'Tell truly, was there never a flout6 or dry blow given?' To which the guest would answer, ' Such and such a thing passed.' The lord would say, 'I thought he would mar a good dinner. '
1 Jade. To over-ride or drive.
'I do not now fool myself to let imagination jade me.'—Shakespere.
3 'Boy, spare the spur, and more tightly hold the reins.'—Ovid. Met. ii. 127.
3 Poser. Examiner. (From pose, to interrogate closely.) 'She posed him, and siftcd him to try whether he were the very Duke of York or not.'—Bacon's Henry VII.
Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably6 to him with whom we deal, is more than to speak in good words or in good order. A good continued speech, without a good speech of interlocution, shows slowness; and a good reply, or second speech, without a good settled speech, showeth shallowness and weakness. As we see in beasts, that those that are weakest in the course, are yet nimblest in the
1 Galliard. A sprightly dance.
'Gay galliards here my love shall dance,
Whilst I my foes goe fighte.'—Fair Rosamond.
'What is thy excellence in a galliard. Knight ?'—Shakespere.
3 That. What; that which. See page 73.
3 Pretend to. Lay claim to. 'Those countries that pretend to freedom.'— Swift.
4 Touch. Particular application. 'Dr. Parker, in his sermon hefore them, touched them for their being so near that they went near to touch him for his life.'—Hay ward.
'Flout. Jeer; taunt; gibe.
'These doors are barred against a bitter flout;
'Full of comparisons and wounding flouts.'—Shakespere.
8 Agreeably. In a manner tuiled.