« ПредишнаНапред »
Virgil. These gentlemen had certainly taken care to make their own fortunes, in their day; but their harangues and hexameters were of so little service to that of their admirer, which had no broader basis than the patrimony of a Scotish younger brother, that be determined to enter on some commercial pursuit. He therefore left the citizens of Rome, and went to try his skill among those of Bris;ol; but finding himself, after a few months, totally unequal to the bustle incident to a mercantile situation, he abandoned the. attempt, and went to France. Thence he returned to London in 1737, and, in the following year, published his Treatise of Human Nature.
Under the profession of shewing what qualifications are requisite for the satisfactory performance of such a work as this pretends to be, Mr. Ritchie has given a sketch of the history of philosophy, or rather a catalogue of-philosophers, from Plato to Hume. But we do not exactly comprehend the design of this, unless he means to be understood, that to be able to indite a philosophical treatise on human nature, the writer must have studied all that has ever been written, by all the philosophers of ancient and modern times. We could certainly wish that Hume had deemed this an indispensable prerequisite to the privilege of writing and vending his own sceptical cogitations; but it is too evident that none of the infidel philosophers have ever had the conscience to acknowledge the obligation of this preliminary duty. This enumeration-of distinguished names ends with a real curiosity, a list of about a sixth part, as the author believes, of " the commentators and scholiasts on Aristotle's philosophical works," which accumulates the titles df books containing, in all, a quantity of writing which would have amounted to several hundred quarto volumes.
It is well known, from Hume's own acknowledgement, that ihis his first performance was utterly neglected by the public. In making the acknowledgement, he praises the equanimity which he maintained on the occasion, and the facility with which his cheerful and sanguine temper returned to the habit of animation and hope. Mr. Ritchie has in his text consented to say the same thing, but lias subjoined a note which gives another representation of the philosopher's patience and tranquillity.
« In the London Review, Vol. V. p. 200 (anno 1777), edited by Dr. Ivenrick, there is a note on ihis passage in our author's biographical narrative, rather inimical to the amenity of disposition claimed by him. The Reviewer says,—tl so sanguine, that it does not appear our author had acquired, at this period of his life, that command over his passions •f which he afterwards makes hisboast. His disappointment at the public reception of his Essay on Human Nature, had indeed a violent effect on his passions in a particular instance; it not having dropped so dead-born from the press, but that it was severely handled by the Reviewers of those times, in a publication entitled The Works of the Learned; a circumstance which so highly provoked our young philosopher, that he flew in a violent rage to demand satisfaction of Jacob Robinson, the publisher, whom he kept, during the paroxysm of his anger, at his sword's point, trembling behind the counter, lest a period should be put to the life of a sober critic, by a raving philosopher.'
The repugnance of mankind to receive instruction, should not deter an enlightened and benevolent man, who may have failed in the first effort, from soliciting their attention again, and holding up salutary truths afresh to their view. Mr. Hume displayed in a high degree this generous perseverance. Having endeavoured to explain to an ungrateful and indocile nation, that there is a wonderful difference between impressions and ideas; that there is no such connection between causes and effects; as to support any argument in defence of religion or for the being of a God ; thr.t no man can admit the truth of the Christian religion but by a miracle taking place in his mind at every moment; that the Deity, if there be any such being, is just so great as his actual visible works indicate, and no greater; together with various other precious and pious doctrines, it had been a desertion of the great cause of truth and utility to have let these discoveries sink in silence, merely because the public had paid but little attention to them on their first or second promulgation. They might be received again with the same indifference; but whether men would hear or whether they would forbear, the philosopher was re- solved the truth should be testified to them once more. After a few years, the substance of the treatise on human nature was new-modelled and re-published, with greater maturity of reasoning, in his Enquiry concerning Human Understanding, and his Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals. These works, however, experienced the same neglect as the first. The crief of the disinterested reformer of the judgements and morals of men may well be imagined to have been extreme, at this repeated proof of their perverseness and hardness of heart; a grief so purely benevolent, that it could be but imperfectly consoled by the reflection, that he had at least performed his own part, and acquitted himself of all the guilt. In regard to such a case, one is anxious to believe, it one could, that really virtue is its own reward. If it be not so, there could be few spectacles more pitiable than that of a philosophic philanthropist, like Mr. Hume, toiling without any success as to the immediate object, and without any hope of a life after death to reward him amidst a happy rest from his labours. His generous distress was not, however, doomed to be alto-r gether without mitigation. About the same period of his life, at which the two Enquiries ineffectually tried to obtain attention, he published some of his Essays, which, finding a more favourable reception, relieved in some measure the-forlornncss of his literary prospects, and gave * fresh stimulus to that indefatigable application to study, whicn even his disappointments had scarcely been sufficient to relax.
Though Mr. Hume failed to effect the great good wh.ch he had so much at heart, it would have been strange if he had failed to draw on. himself the persecution which has been the usual lot of the promoters of an unpopular good, cause.
In the General Assembly, which is the supreme ecclesiastical judicature of the Scotish church, two great parties had long subsisted, the one professing more liberal and moderate principles than the other. The zealots, in the warmth of opposition, affected to take great offence at many of their opponents for cultivating the friendship of Kames and Hume, in whose writings they now began to discover the most noxious doctrines; and finally resolved, by attacking these, to expose their enemies to popular obloquy, if not to defeat', p. 52.
Mr. Ritchie's imputation of party-spirit, rather than an apprehension of danger from infidel principles, as the motive of some of the best men then living, is too evidently liberal and ingenuous to require our praise. Some preliminary measures however were adopted; the Assembly passed an act, expressing, in general terms, their abhorrence of infidel principles, and such books as tended to promote them ; but their atten* tion was for a while diverted to another concern.
'An affair of superior magnitude had engrossed the deliberations of that venerable body; for at this time the Scotish church was thrown into a general ferment by an attempt to introduce the reformed music. In accomplishing thi3, the most indecent scenes were exhibited. It was not uncommon for a congregation to divide themselves into two parties, one of which, in chaunting the palms, followed the old, and the other the new mode of musical execution; while the infidel, who was not in the habit of frequenting the temple, now resorted to it, not for the laudable purpose of repentance and edification, but from the ungodly motive of being a spectator of the contest.
'Among the Scottish presbyterians it was an ancient practice to join in psalmody while they were busy at their occupations.'—' By toe daily exercise of their musical talents, they were enabled to sing on Sundays with greater energy and expression. During the present dispute, it was cusr tomaty f°r t^e Partizans or" 'he different kinds of music to convene apart, in numerous bodies, for the purpose of practising, and to muster their whole strength on the Sabbath. The moment the psalm was read f-jm .t lpit, each side, in general chorus, commenced their operations; and
f pastor and clerk, or precentor, often differed in their sentiment •,, the M was immediately in an uproar. Blows and bruise6 were interchurch
changed between the impassioned songsters, and, in many parts of the Country the most serious disturbances took place. In Edinburgh, the magistracy declared in favour of the modern improvement, and appointed a committee of ministers, among whom was the Rev. Mr. Hugh Blair, to concert the proper means for introducing it. As the authdr of this work is not a gifted son of Apollo, he is unable to decide on the merits of so momentous a question.' pp. 57, 58.
Not the strains of Apollo's own lyre would have beguiled the " fanatics," however, out of their purpose of moving, at the next meeting of the General Assembly, for a process against Hume. A long and warm debate took place in the committee, of which an abridged account is given from the Scots Magazine of those times-. The Committee at length decided not to move the Assembly to the proposed inquisition into the writings of Hume. A little while afterwards, a process instituted before the Presbytery of Edinburgh, against one of Karnes's books, was also dismissed.
There are various expressions in this and other parts of the ■volume, pretty plainly indicating Mr. R.'s own dispositions toward religion. His condemnation of these proceedings against infidelity does not appear to arise, in any degree, from a concern for the cause of religion, which he might think this an injudicious and injurious mode of defending, but from a contempt of the zeal which could think it worth while to take any interest about religion at all, or in any way to make a strenuous effort in its defence. Nor is it apparently his anxiety for the endangered liberty of the press, that prompts the indignation, but really a friendly sympathy with the cause of deism, and with Hume considered in the character of its advocate and apostle, to whose writings possibly the biographer feels indebted ^ nd grateful for some part of his freedom from prejudice and superstition.
But, while we cannot entertain the smallest respect for the motive of our author's censure of these proceedings, we disapprove, as much as he can do, the exertion of temporal force, whether in an ecclesiastical or purely secular form, or any proceedings tending to this exertion, against the propagators of erroneous speculations. We disapprove it for the obvious reasons whitli have been repeated innumerable times.
1. The exertion of force for the suppression or punishment of error, proceeds on a principle which is itself the jnost impious of all errors: it assumes the infallibility of the power that makes it.
2. Though the power, whether an individual or a corporation of persons, exercising such authority, were an infallible judge of truth, there can be no proof derived from the Christian institutes, that the Governor of the world has invested the temporal authority with any right of interference or punishment, one step beyond the offences which immediately violate the good order of the body politic. But the most absolute proof from this source is required, since nothing can be more dangerous and wicked, than to hazard an encroachment on the peculiar and exclusive province of the Divine jurisdiction.
3. As this exercise of power is not authorised by Christianity, so neither can it be justified by any practical experience of its being adapted to produce its intended effect. The experience of ages testifies its inefficacy. The re-action of the human mind, against what has been felt as persecution, has commonly produced a more obstinate adherence to the obnoxious opinions, which have thenceforth been propagated with more daring zeal, or with more sedulous cunning, so that their extermination eould be effected only by exterminating their believers.,
4. If this power is to be exercised at all, there are no definable limits to its exercise, since there can be no indisputable rules for deciding what error is too small, or what punishment is too great. It will be impossible to ascertain the proportions of turpitude and pernicious tendency in the various forms and degrees of error; and among the adherents to any given system of opinions, there will not be wanting some who can foresee the most dreadful consequences necessarily resulting from the rejection of even the minutest of its articles, and who therefore, if invested with power, and unrestrained by policy, would enact fines, imprisonment, exile, or death, against the slightest deviation from the appointed creed.
5. If we could even admit the possibility of such an exercise of human power being just in the abstract, it is impossible to find or imagine any man, or corporation of men, so sublimely virtuous as to exercise it with an exclusive disinterested regard to its object. In all cases that ever yet occurred, worldly advantage, or the spirit of party, or some other mean principle, has mingled in those proceedings of temporal power, against heretics and unbelievers, which have been professedly dictated by a pure love of truth.
Lastly, it seems no less than a virtual rejection of religion, to admit that its evidence is not such as to support it, without the assistance of a provision to inflict temporal pains and penalties on its adversaries and deserters.
In these observations we have used the word temporal power, notwithstanding that the proceedings meditated against Hume were of an ecclesiastical nature. It is scarcely necessary to observe, that wherever the church is formally supported as a corporate body by the authority, and as a constitueet part, of