Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

in comparison with the philosopher, must appear as light as a peacock's feather weighed against an ingot of gold. I am far, however, from thinking an union between Philosophy and Taste impracticable. The writings of Cicero alone afford fufficient proofs, how susceptible the most abstract topics of philosophy are of the embellishments of imagination; and I cannot help remarking by the way, what an inexpressible charm, and what an addition of dignity, the character of Cicero derives from the anxious solicitude with which he pursued those refearches, which the conductors of “ Liberal Education" in our times affect to treat with ridicule and contempt. But though I would pay a superior regard to that which appears to me of superior excellence and importance, I do not deem lightly of the use or value of claílical literature. I am not insensible to the exquisite beauties of those ancient writings, which are justly regarded as the 'most perfect models of literary excellence; nor am I a stranger to the refined pleasures to be derived from this fource. In the present state of things alfo, classical learning is so intimately blended with every other fpecies of knowledge, that the study of the dead languages is become a matter of indispensable necessity to those who entertain the remotest views of intellectual improvement. But what I regard as a just subject of complaint is, that claffical literature is made too much an ultimate object. There are many men of good natural understandings, and who pass for what is generally called good scholars,

who

who are, in fact, most deplorably ignorant. They seem to consider the attainment of the learned languages as the great end of life; and as that is the fpecies of learning which is most serviceable in the acquisition of academical honours, it is too frea quently thought all that is necessary; and a total ignorance of those sublime investigations, which open a new world to our intellectual view, is very easily convertible into a gross and stupid contempt of them.

In one of our universities, indeed, mathematical science engages a very great, and I think a very disproportionate share, of the general attention. It has been often asserted, that the study of Mathematics contributes to strengthen the judgment, to check the rovings of fancy, to fix the attention, and insensibly to infuse into the mind an habit of thinking accurately, and of arguing with precision, even upon moral and philosophical subjects. This is an opinion so plausible, that I do not wonder it should be favourably received; though I do not believe that there is any maxim more entirely destitute of foundation, or one which is less able to abide the test of examination and experience. If we consider the fundamental difference which fubfists between mathematical and moral reasonings, I think we must acknowledge, that it is absolutely impracticable to transfer our ideas from the one to the other, so as to derive any

advantage from the experiment. Nay, I will venture to affirm, that mathematicians have often been

betrayed betrayed into egregious absurdities, by attempting to introduce mathematical ideas into subjects where they are totally inapplicable. Would the famous Professor Wallis, for instance, if he had not been a mathematician, ever have exposed himfelf to general ridicule, by comparing the three personal distinctions of the Godhead to the three dimensions of a cube, and the Godhead itself to a cube infinitely extended ? If the study of Mathe. matics contributes so much to bestow precision and accuracy in our reasonings on moral subjects, how can it be accounted for that Pascal, that prodigy of mathematical genius, fhould not have been able to discover the abfurdity of the Popish doctrine of transubstantiation? And as the mathematics are much cultivated in the catholic countries, furely we might reasonably form a general expectation, that those at least who were eminently distinguished by their mathematical abilities, should be as remark. able for their freedom from vulgar prejudices. If their skill in geometrical science could be supposed

any
influence

upon

their general habits of thinking and reasoning, it is fair to infer, that they must at least be exempt from the groffer er: fors of the popular fuperstition; but it happens unluckily to be well known, that the Jesuits were not only the most able mathematicians, but the molt deplorable bigots of modern times. In fact, moral truth, not admitting, strictly speaking, of demonstration, i. e. of a species of proof which consists of the regular and uninterrupted deduction

of

to have

of one self-evident proposition from another, bears no analogy to mathematical truth, and requires a totally different kind of support. In its attempts to investigate moral truths, the mind is perpetually occupied in the comparison of probabilities; and the man, whose attention has been folely engrossed by the contemplation of truths, supported by infallible reasoning, will be as much at a loss when he is called upon to estimate the value of oppofing probabilities, as if he had been taken immediately from the loom, or from the plough ; and if the appeal is made to real life, and actual obfervation, I believe it will almost invariably be found, that those who are distinguished by a strong predilection for mathematical pursuits, are the men whose views and sentiments upon other subjects are remarkably narrow and contracted, their reasonings confused and inconsequential, and their general habits of thinking illiberal and vulgar; such instances as a flight acquaintance with the world will furnish, are sufficient to demonstrate, in opposition to the most specious fpeculations, that mathematical knowledge has not that tendency to enlarge the mind, or to strengthen the judgment, which many fanciful people are apt to imagine. Nevertheless, geometry is undoubtedly in itself a noble and important branch of science, and the elements of it, at least, ought to be well understood, by those who aspire to the praise of a liberal education ; but I do not think that it is necessary, or proper, to make it a primary object

0

with cloud

66 We recogs

with the generality of students, who usually enter
upon the study with disgust, who are seldom de-
sirous, or perhaps capable, of making such a pro-
ficiency in it as to derive any real advantage from
it; and who not unfrequently, when they have
once forsaken the walls of the College, insensibly
lose, by neglect, the knowledge they had acquired
by long and laborious application; or if it is re.
tained, it produces no visible effect upon their ge-
neral modes of thinking or acting.
“ nize immediately,” says the author of the
Rambler, “ the philologist, the critic, the philo-

sopher, or the man of taste; but years after

years may elapse, before we discover that the “ man with whom we have frequent intercourse " is an able mathematician.” However important mathematical science may be deemed, as it relates to the community, with respect to such persons, it in fact terminates in fpeculation, which is the reproach Mr. K. wishes, though most unjustly, to fix upon the Study of Metaphysics; but this is not all : “ Metaphysics,” according to Mr. K. “ tend only to benight the understanding in a - cloud of its own making; to lose it in a laby- rinth of its own contrivance." With regard to this charge, the question may not improperly be put to Mr. K. “ Speakest thou of thyself, or of 56 some other man?" Those who pay only a slight and superficial attention to any subject of an abstruse and recondite nature, are very willing, and find it very easy, to persuade theinfelves, that the

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]
« ПредишнаНапред »