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have read fifty in the same strain, and shall read no more. I can be wretched enough without them. They put me in mind of the Greek sophist that got immortal honour by discoursing so feelingly on the miseries of our condition, that fifty of his audience went home and hanged themselves; yet he lived himself (I suppose) many years after in very good plight.
You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue; I will tell you: 1st, he was a lord; 2dly, he was as vain as any of his readers; 3dly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; 4thly, they will believe any thing at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; 5thly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where; 6thly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seemed always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks but with commoners: vanity is no longer interested in the matter, for the new road is become an old one. The mode of free-thinking is like that of ruffs and farthingales, and has given place to the mode of not thinking at all; once it was reckoned graceful, half to discover and half conceal the mind, but now we have been long accustomed to see it quite naked : primness and affectation of style, like the good breeding of Queen Anne's court, has turned to hoydening and rude familiarity.
It will, I think, be no improper supplement to the foregoing letter to insert a paper of Mr. Gray's, which contains some very pertinent strictures on the writings of a later lord, who was pleased to attack the moral attributes of the Deity, or, what amounted to the same thing, endeavoured to prove,
" that we have no ade
quáte ideas of his goodness and justice, as we have of his natural ones, his wisdom and power.” This position the excellent author of the View of Lord Bolingbroke's Philosophy, calls the MAIN PILLAR of his system; and adds, in another place, that the FATE OF ALL RELIgion is included in this question. On this important point, therefore, that able writer has dwelt largely, and confuted his Lordship effectually. Some sort of readers, however, who probably would slight that confutation, may regard the arguments of a layman, and even a poet, more than those which are drawn up by the pen of a divine and a bishop: it is for the use of these that the paper is published; who, if they learn nothing else from it, will find that Mr. Gray was not of their party, nor so great a wit as to disbelieve the existence of a Deity. *
I will allow Lord Bolingbroke, that the moral, as well as physical attributes of God must be known to us only à posteriori, and that this is the only real knowledge we can have either of the one or the other; I will allow too, that perhaps it may be an idle distinction which we make between them: his moral attributes being as much in his nature and essence as those we call his physical; but the occasion of our making some dis-tinction is plainly this: his eternity, infinity, omniscience, and almighty power, are not what connect him, if I may so speak, with us his creatures. We adore him, not because he always did in every place, and always will, exist; but because he
and still preserves to us ourownexistence by an exertion of his goodness. We
* In one of his pocket-books I find a slight sketch in verse of his own character, which may, on account of one line in it, come into a note here with sufficient propriety. It was written in 1761.
Too poor for a bribe, and too proud to importune;
But left church and state to Charles Townshend and Squire. This last line needs no comment for readers of the present time, and it surely is not worth while to write one on this occasion for posterity.
adore him not because he knows and can do all things, but because he made us capable of knowing and of doing what may conduct us to happiness : it is therefore his benevolence which we adore, not his greatness or power; and if we are made only to bear our part in a system, without any regard to our own particular happiness, we can no longer worship him as our all-bounteous Parent: there is no meaning in the term. The idea of his malevolence (an impiety I tremble to write) must succeed. We have nothing left but our fears, and those too vain; for whither can they lead but to despair and the sad desire of annihilation? “If then, justice and goodness be not the same in God as in our ideas, we mean nothing when we say that God is necessarily just and good; and for the same reason it may as well be said that we know not what we mean when according to Dr. Clarke (Evid. 26th), we affirm that he is necessarily a wise and intelligent Being.” What then can Lord Bolingbroke mean, when he says every thing shews the wisdom of God; and yet adds, every thing does not shew in like manner the goodness of God conformably to our ideas of this attribute in either? By wisdom he must only mean, that God knows and employs the fittest means to a certain end, no matter what that end may be: this indeed is a proof of knowledge and intelligence; but these alone do not constitute wisdom; the word implies the application of these fittest means to the best and kindest end: or, who will call it true wisdom? even amongst ourselves, it is not held as such. All the attributes then that he seems to think apparent in the constitution of things, are his unity, infinity, eternity, and intelligence; from no one of which, I boldly affirm, can result any duty of gratitude or adoration incumbent on mankind, more than if He and all things round him were produced, as some have dared to think, by the necessary working of eternal matter in an infinite vacuum: for
what does it avail to add intelligence to those other physical attributes, unless that intelligence be directed, not only to the good of the whole, but also to the good of every individual of which that whole is composed?
It is therefore no impiety, but the direct contrary, to say that human justice and the other virtues, which are indeed only various applications of human benevolence, bear some resemblance to the moral attributes of the Supreme Being: it is only by means of that resemblance, we conceive them in him, or their effects in his works: it is by the same means only, that we comprehend those physical attributes which his lordship allows to be demonstrable: how can we form any notion of his unity, but from that unity of which we ourselves are conscious? How of his existence, but from our own consciousness of existing? How of his power, but of that power which we experience in ourselves ? yet neither Lord Bolingbroke, nor any other man, that thought on these subjects, ever believed that these our ideas were real and full representations of these attributes in the Divinity. They say he knows; they do not mean that he compares ideas which he acquired from sensation, and draws conclusions from them. They say he acts; they do not mean by impulse, nor as the soul acts on an organized body. They say he is omnipotent and eternal; yet on what are their ideas founded, but on our own narrow conceptions of space and duration, prolonged beyond the bounds of place and time? Either therefore there is a resemblance and analogy (however imperfect and distant) between the attributes of the Divinity and our conceptions of them, or we cannot have any conceptions of them at all: he allows we ought to reason from earth, that we do know, to heaven which we do not know; how can we do so but by that affinity which appears between one and the other?
In vain then does my lord attempt to ridicule the
warm but melancholy imagination of Mr. Wollaston in that fine soliloquy-"Must I then bid my last farewell to these walks when I close these lids, and yonder blue regions and all this scene darken upon me and go out? Must I then only serve to furnish dust to be mingled with the ashes of these herds and plants, or with this dirt under my feet? Have I been set so far above them in life, only to be levelled with them in death ?** No thinking head, no heart, that has the least sensibility, but must have made the same reflection ; or at least must feel, not the beauty alone, but the truth of it, when he hears it from the mouth of another. Now what reply will Lord Bolingbroke make to these questions, which are put to him, not only by Wollaston, but by all mankind? He will tell you, that we, that is, the animals, vegetables, stones, and other clods of earth, are all connected in one immense design, that we are all dramatis persona, in different characters, and that we were not made for ourselves, but for the action; that it is foolish, presumptuous, impious, and profane, to murmur against the Almighty Author of this drama, when we feel ourselves unavoidably unhappy. On the contrary, we ought to rest our head on the soft pillow of resignation, on the immoveable rock of tranquillity ; secure, that, if our pains and afflictions grow violent indeed, an immediate end will be put to our miserable being, and we shall be mingled with the dirt under our feet, a thing common to all the animal kind ; and of which, he who complains, does not seem to have been set by his reason so far above them in life, as to deserve not to be mingled with them in death. Such is the consolation his philosophy gives us, and such the hope on which his tranquillity was founded.f
* Religion of Nature Delineated, Sect. ix. p. 209. quarto.
+ The reader, who would choose to see the argument, as Lord Bolingbroke puts it, will find it in the fourth volume of his Philosophical Works, Sect. xl. xli. His ridicule on Wollaston is in the fiftieth Section of the same volume.