Page images

tellect, or want of taste and sensibility, or hardness of heart, or corruption of moral principle, to all who deny the truth of the doctrine, or the sufficiency of the evidence, or the fairness of the reasoning adduced in its support. This is indeed not essentially different from the first, but assumes a separate character from its accompaniments : for though both the doctrine and its proofs may have been legitimately supplied by the understanding, yet the bitterness of personal crimination will resolve itself into naked assertion. We are, therefore, authorized by experience, and justified on the principle of self-defence and by the law of fair retaliation, in attributing it to a vicious temper arrogant from irritability, or irritable from arrogance. This learned arrogance admits of many gradations, and is aggravated or palliated, accordingly as the point in dispute has been more or less controverted, as the reasoning bears a smaller or greater proportion to the virulence of the personal detraction, and as the person or parties, who are the objects of it, are more or less respected, more or less worthy of respect.*

Lastly, it must be admitted as a just imputation of presumption

* Had the author of the Divine Legation of Moses more skilfully appropriated his coarse eloquence of abuse, his customary assurances of the idiocy, both in head and heart, of all his opponents; if he had employed those vigorous arguments of his own vehement humor in the defence of truths acknowledged and reverenced by learned men in general; or if he had confined them to the names of Chubb, Woolston, and other precursors of Thomas Paine; we should perhaps still characterize his mode of controversy by its rude violence, but not so often have heard his name used, even by those who have never read his writings, as a proverbial expression for learned arrogance. But when a novel and doubtful hypothesis of his own formation was the citadel to be defended, and his mephitic handgranados were thrown with the fury of lawless despotism at the fair reputation of a Sykes and a Lardner, we not only confirm the verdict of his independent contemporaries, but cease to wonder, that arrogance should render men objects of contempt in many, and of aversion in all, instances, when it was capable of hurrying a Christian teacher of equal talents and learning into a slanderous vulgarity, which escapes our disgust only when we see the writer's own reputation the sole victim. But throughout his great work, and the pamphlets in which he supported it, he always seems to write as if he had deemed it a duty of decorum to publish his fancies on the Mosaic Law as the Law itself was delivered, that is, in thunders and lightnings: or as if he had applied to his own book instead of the sacred mount, the menace,-- There shall not a hand touch it but he shall surely be stoned or shot through.

when an individual obtrudes on the public eye, with all the high pretensions of originality, opinions and observations, in regard to which he must plead wilful ignorance in order to be acquitted of dishonest plagiarism. On the same seat must the writer be placed, who in a disquisition on any important subject proves, by falsehoods either of omission or of positive error, that he has neglected to possess himself, not only of the information requisite for this particular subject; but even of those acquirements, and that general knowledge, which could alone authorize him to commence a public instructor. This is an office which can not be procured gratis. The industry, necessary for the due exercise of its functions, is its purchase-money; and the absence or insufficiency of the same is so far a species of dishonesty, and implies a presumption in the literal as well as the ordinary sense of the word. He has taken a thing before he had acquired any right or title thereto.

If in addition to this unfitness which every man possesses the means of ascertaining, his aim should be to unsettle a general belief closely connected with public and private quiet; and if his language and manner be avowedly calculated for the illiterate, and perhaps licentious, part of his countrymen; disgusting as his presumption must appear, it is yet lost or evanescent in the close neighborhood of his guilt. That Hobbes translated Homer into English verse and published his translation, furnishes no positive evidence of his self-conceit, though it implies a great lack of selfknowledge and of acquaintance with the nature of poetry.* A strong wish often imposes itself on the mind for an actual power : the mistake is favored by the innocent pleasure derived from the exercise of versification, perhaps by the approbation of intimates ; and the candidate asks from more impartial readers that sentence, which nature has not enabled him to anticipate. But when the philosopher of Malmesbury waged war with Wallis and the fundamental truths of pure geometry, every instance of his gross ignorance and utter misconception of the very elements of the science he proposed to confute, furnished an unanswerable fact in

* At the time I wrote this essay, and indeed till the present month, December, 1818, I had never seen Hobbes' translation of the Odyssey, which, I now find, is by no means to be spoken of contemptuously. It is doubtless as much too ballad-like, as the later versions are too epic; but still, on the whole, it leaves a much truer impression of the original.

proof of his high presumption ; and the confident and insulting language of the attack leaves the judicious reader in as little doubt of his gross arrogance. An illiterate mechanic, who mistaking some disturbance of his nerves for a miraculous call proceeds alone to convert a tribe of savages, whose language he can have no natural means of acquiring, may have been misled by impulses very different from those of high self-opinion ; but the illiterate perpetrator of the · Age of Reason' must have had his very conscience stupefied by the habitual intoxication of presumptuous arrogance, and his common sense over-clouded by the vapors

from his heart. As long therefore as I obtrude no unsupported assertions on my readers ; and as long as I state my opinions and the evidence which induced or compelled me to adopt them, with calmness and that diffidence in myself, which is by no means incompatible with a firm belief in the justness of the opinions themselves ; while I attack no man's private life from any cause, and detract from no man's honors in his public character, from the truth of his doctrines, or the merits of his compositions, without detailing all my reasons and resting the result solely on the arguments adduced ; while I moreover explain fully the motives of duty, which influenced me in resolving to institute such investigation; while I confine all asperity of censure, and all expressions of contempt, to gross violations of truth, honor, and decency, to the base corrupter and the detected slanderer ; while I write on no subject, which I have not studied with my best attention, on no subject which my education and acquirements have incapacitated me from properly understanding ; and above all while I approve myself, alike in praise and in blame, in close reasoning and in impassioned declamation, a steady friend to the two best and surest friends of all men, truth and honesty ; I will not fear an accusation of either presumption or arrogance from the good and the wise, I shall pity it from the weak, and welcome it from the wicked.




In eodem pectore nullum est honestorum turpiumque consortium : et cogitare optima simul ac deterrima non magis est unius animi quam ejusdem hominis bonum esse ac malum.


There is no fellowship of honor and baseness in the same breast; and to combine the best and the worst designs is no more possible in one mind, than it is for the same man to be at the same instant virtuous and vicious.

Cognitio veritatis omnia falsa, si modo proferantur, etiam quce prius inaudita erant, et dijudicare et subvertere idonea est.


A knowledge of the truth is equal to the task both of discerning and of confuting all false assertions and erroneous arguments, though never before met with, if only they may freely be brought forward.

I HAVE said, that my very system compels me to make every fair appeal to the feelings, the imagination, and even the fancy. If these are to be withholden from the service of truth, virtue, and happiness, to what purpose were they given? In whose service are they retained ? I have indeed considered the disproportion of human passions to their ordinary objects among the strongest internal evidence of our future destination, and the attempt to restore them to their rightful claimants, the most imperious duty and the noblest task of genius. The verbal enunciation of this master truth could scarcely be new to me at any period of my life since earliest youth ; but I well remember the particular time, when the words first became more than words to me, when they incorporated with a living conviction, and took their place among the realities of my being. On some wide common or open heath, peopled with ant-hills, during some one of the gray cloudy days of late autumn, many of my readers may have noticed the effect of a sudden and momentary flash of sunshine on all the countless

* XII. 1. 4.--Ed.

little animals within his view, aware too that the self-same influence was darted co-instantaneously over all their swarming cities as far as his eye could reach ; may have observed, with what a kindly force the gleam stirs and quickens them all, and will have experienced no unpleasurable shock of feeling in seeing myriads of myriads of living and sentient beings united at the same moment in one gay sensation, one joyous activity! But awful indeed is the same appearance in a multitude of rational beings, our fellow-men, in whom too the effect is produced not so much by the external occasion as from the active quality of their own thoughts. I had walked from Göttingen in the year 1799, to witness the arrival of the Queen of Prussia, on her visit to the Baron Von Hartzberg's seat, five miles from the University. The spacious outer court of the palace was crowded with men and women, a sea of heads, with a number of children rising out of it from their fathers' shoulders. After a buzz of two hours' expectation, the avant-courier rode at full speed into the court. At the loud cracks of his long whip and the trampling of his horse's hoofs, the universal shock and thrill of emotion—I have not language to convey it-expressed as it was in such manifold looks, gestures, and attitudes, yet with one and the same feeling in the eyes of all! Recovering from the first inevitable contagion of sympathy, I involuntarily exclaimed, though in a language to myself alone intelligible, “O man! ever nobler than thy circumstances ! Spread but the mist of obscure feeling over any form, and even a woman incapable of blessing or of injuring thee shall be welcomed with an intensity of emotion adequate to the reception of the Redeemer of the world !''

To a creature so highly, so fearfully gifted, -who, alienated as he is by a sorcery scarcely less mysterious than the nature on, which it is exercised, yet, like the fabled son of Jove in the evil day of his sensual bewitehment, lifts the spindles and distaffs of Omphale with the arm of a giant—to such a creature truth is self-restoration : for that which is the correlative of truth, the existence of absolute life, is the only object which can attract toward it the whole depth and mass of his fluctuating being, and alone therefore can unite calmness with elevation. But it must be truth without alloy and unsophisticated. It is by the agency of indistinct conceptions, as the counterfeits of the ideal and transcendant, that evil and vanity exercise their tyranny on the feel

« PreviousContinue »