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Nor is it at all wonderful that the beneficial effects of metaphysical habits of thinking should have been first perceived in political economy, and some other sciences to which, on a superficial view, they may seem to have a very remote relation ; and that the rise of the sap in the tree of knowledge should be indicated by the germs at the extremities of the branches before any visible change is discernible in the trunk. The sciences, whose improvement during the last century has been generally acknowledged, are those which are most open to common observation; while the changes which have taken place in the state of metaphysics, have attracted the notice of the few alone who take a deep interest in these abstract pursuits. The swelling of the buds, however, affords a sufficient proof that the roots are sound, and encourages the hope that the growth of the trunk, though more slow, will, in process of time, be equally conspicuous with that of the leaves and blossoms.
I shall close this part of my Dissertation with remarking, that the practical influence of such speculations as those of Locke and of Bacon is to be traced only by comparing, on a large scale, the state of the human mind at distant periods. Both these philosophers appear to have been fully aware, (and I know of no philosopher before them of whom the same thing can be said, that the progressive improvement of the species is to be expected less from the culture of the reasoning powers, strictly so called, than from the prevention, in early life, of those artificial impressions and associations, by means of which, when once riveted by habit, the strongest reason may held in perpetual bondage. These impressions and associations may be likened to the slender threads which fastened Gulliver to the earth ; and they are to be overcome, not by a sudden exertion of intellectual force, but by the gradual effect of good education, in breaking them asunder one by one. Since the revival of letters, seconded by the invention of printing, and by the Protestant Reformation, this process has been incessantly going on, all over the Christian world ; but it is chiefly in the course of the last century that the result has become visible to common observers. How many are the threads which,
even in Catholic countries, have been broken by the writings of Locke! How many still remain to be broken, before the mind of man can recover that moral liberty which, at some future period, it seems destined to enjoy!
NOTES AND ILLUSTRATIONS.
The chief purpose of these Notes and Illustrations, is to verify some of the inore important views contained in the foregoing Historical Sketch. The errors into which I have frequently been led by trusting to the information of writers, who, in describing philosophical systems, profess to give merely the general results of their researches, unauthenticated by particular references to the original souces, have long convinced me of the propriety, on such occasions, of bringing under the eye of the reader, the specific authorities on which my statements proceed. Without such a check, the most faithful historian is perpetually liable to the suspicion of accommodating facts to his favorite theories; or of unconsciously blending with the opinions he ascribes to others, the glosses of his own imagination. The quotations in the following pages, selected principally from books not now in general circulation, may, I hope, at the same time, be useful in facilitating the labors of those who shall hereafter resume the same subject, on a scale more susceptible of the minuteness of literary detail.
For a few short biographical digressions, with which I have endeavoured to give somewhat of interest and relief to the abstract and unattractive topics which occupy so great a part of my discourse, I flatter myself that no apology is necessary ; more especially, as these digressions will, in general, be found to throw some additional light on the philosophical or the political principles of the individuals to whom they relate.
Note (A.) page 28. Sir Thomas More, though, towards the close of his life, he became “a persecutor even unto blood, defiling with cruelties those hands which were never polluted with bribes," * was, in his earlier and better days, eminently distinguished by the humanity of his temper, and the liberality of his opinions. Abundant proofs of this may be collected from his letters to Erasmus; and from the sentiments, both religious and political, indirectly inculcated in his Utopia. In contempt for the ignorance and profligacy of the monks, he was not surpassed by his correspondent; and against various superstitions of the Romish church, such as the celibacy of priests, and the use of images in worship, he has expressed himself more decidedly than could well have been expected from a man placed in his circumstances. But these were not the whole of his merits. His ideas on Criminal Law are still quoted with respect by the advocates for a milder code than has yet been introduced into this country; and, on the subject of toleration, no modern politician has gone farther than his Utopian Legislators.
The disorders occasioned by the rapid progress of the Reformation, having completely shaken his faith in the sanguine speculations of his youth, seem at length, by alarming his fears as to the fate of existing establishments, to have unhinged his understanding, and perverted his moral feelings. The case was somewhat the same with his friend Erasmus, who (as Jortin remarks) “ began in his old days to act the zealot and the missionary with an ill grace, and to maintain, that there were certain heretics, who might be put to death as blasphemers and rioters." (pp. 428, 481.)