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precision, properly devolves upon those to whose province it belongs, in the progress of the work, to unfold in detail their elementary principles.
The sciences to which I mean to confine my observations are Metaphysics, Ethics, and Political Philosophy ; understanding, by Metaphysics, not the Ontology and Pneumatology of the schools, but the inductive Philosophy of the Human Mind; and limiting the phrase, Political Philosophy, almost exclusively to the modern science of Political Economy; or, (to express myself in terms at once more comprehensive and more precise) to that branch of the theory of legislation which, according to Bacon's definition, aims to ascertain those “ Leges legum, ex quibus informatio peti potest quid in singulis legibus bene aut perperam positum aut constitutum sit.”
The close affinity between these three departments of knowledge, and the easy transitions by which the curiosity is invited from the study of any one of them to that of the other two, will sufficiently appear from the following Historical Review.
In the following Historical and Critical Sketches, it has beéi judged proper by the different writers, to confine their views entirely to the period which has elapsed since the revival of letters. To have extended their retrospects to the ancient world would have crowded too great a multiplicity of objects into the limited canvass on which they had to work. For my own part, I might, perhaps, with still greater propriety, have confined myself
exclusively to the two last centuries; as the Sciences, of which I am to treat, present but little matter for useful remark, prior to the time of Lord Bacon. I shall make no apology, however for devoting, in the first place, a few pages to some observations of a more general nature ; and to some scanty gleanings of literary detail, bearing more or less directly on my principal design.
On this occasion, as well as in the sequel of my Discourse, I shall avoid, as far as is consistent with distinctness and perspicuity, the minuteness of the mere bibliographer ; and, instead of attempting to amuse my readers with a series of critical epigrams, or to dazzle them with a rapid succession of evanescent portraits, shall study to fix their attention on those great lights of the world by whom the torch of science has been successively seized and transmitted.* It is in fact such leading characters alone which furnish matter for philosophical history. To enumerate the names and the labors of obscure or even secondary authors (whatever amusement it might afford to men of curious erudition), would contribute but little to illustrate the origin and filiation of consecutive systems, or the gradual developement and progress of the human mind.
* 1 have ventured here to combine a scriptural expression with an allusion of Plato's to a Grecian game; an allusion which, in his writings, is finely and pathetically applied to the rapid succession of generations, through which the continuity of human life is maintained from age to age ; and which are perpetually transferring from hand to hand the concerns and duties of this fleeting scene. Γεννώντες και εκτρέφοντες παίδας, καθάπις λαμπάδα τον βίον παραδιδόντες άλλοις εξ άλλων. (Plato, Leg. lib. vi.)
“Et, quasi cursores, vitaï lampada tradunt.”—Lucret.
FROM THE REVIVAL OF LETTERS TO THE PUBLICATION OF BACON's Phi
The long interval, commonly known by the name of the middle ages, which immediately preceded the revival of letters in the western part of Europe, forms the most melancholy blank which occurs, from the first dawn of recorded civilization, in the intellectual and moral history of the human race. In one point of view alone, the recollection of it is not altogether unpleasing, in as much as, by the proof it exhibits of the inseparable connexion between ignorance and prejudice on the one hand, and vice, misery, and slavery, on the other, it affords, in conjunction with other causes, which will afterwards fall under our review, some security against any future recurrence of a similar calamity.
It would furnish a very interesting and instructive subject of speculation, to record and to illustrate (with the spirit, however, rather of a philosopher than of an anti-. quary) the various abortive efforts, which, during this protracted and seemingly hopeless period of a thousand years, were made by enlightened individuals, to impart to their contemporaries the fruits of their own acquirernents. For in no one age from its commencement to its close, does the continuity of knowledge (if I may borrow an expression of Mr. Harris) seem to have been entirely interrupted : “ There was always a faint twilight, like that auspicious gleam which, in a summer's night, fills up the interval between the setting and the rising sun." *
On the present occasion, I shall content myself with remarking the important effects produced by the numerous monastic establishments all over the Christian world, in preserving, amidst the general wreck, the inestimable remains of Greek and Roman refinement; and in keeping
Philological Inquiries, Part III. chap. i.
alive, during so many centuries, those scattered sparks of truth and of science, which were afterwards to kindle into so bright a flame. I mention this particularly, because, in our zeal against the vices and corruptions of the Romish church, we are too apt to forget, how deeply we are indebted to its superstitious and apparently useless foundations, for the most precious advantages that we now enjoy
The study of the Roman Law, which, from a variety of causes, natural as well as accidental, became, in the course of the twelfth century, an object of general pursuit, shot a strong and auspicious ray of intellectual light across the surrounding darkness. No study could then have been presented to the curiosity of men, more happily adapted to improve their taste, to enlarge their views, or to invigorate their reasoning powers; and although, in the first instance, prosecuted merely as the object of a weak and undistinguishing idolatry, it nevertheless conducted the student to the very confines of ethical as well as of political speculation; and served, in the meantime, as a substitute of no inconsiderable value for both these sciences. Accordingly we find that, while in its immediate effects, it powerfully contributed, wherever it struck its roots, by meliorating and systematizing the administration of justice, to accelerate the progress of order and of civilization, it afterwards furnished, in the farther career of human advancement, the parent stock on which were grafted the first rudiments of pure ethics and of liberal politics taught in modern times. I need scarcely add, that I allude to the systems of natural jurisprudence compiled by Grotius and his successors; systems which, for a hundred and fifty years, engrossed all the learned industry of the most enlightened part of Europe ; and which, however unpromising in their first aspect, were destined, in the last result, to prepare the way for that never to be forgotten change in the literary taste of the eighteenth century, “ which has every where turned the spirit of philosophical inquiry from frivolous or abstruse speculations, to the business and affairs of men."*
* Dr. Robertson from whom I quote these words, has mentioned this change as