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umes, and every thing which had previously appeared from her pen, which was published in this country in 1832, has met with a slow and discouraging sale. It cannot be, that the existence of this edition has been generally known to the lovers of good literature. They surely would not have suffered the dust of five years to settle upon it, as it rested undisturbed on the shelves of the bookseller, while many an inferior work has tasked the activity of printer and binder, and entered into a wide and rapid circulation. We do not believe that the public were mistaken, when they hailed the Plays on the Passions with an admiring welcome on their first appearance. And though public attention has been diverted from them by hundreds of names and works which have since risen, some of them deservedly, into popularity, the fame of the authoress of those plays will survive the temporary forgetfulness, for it is founded on living and enduring excellence and on the unchangeable affections of the human heart.
F. W. P. G.
ART. II. The Question of Expediency.
IT is often the case, that, in popular discussions upon questions of duty, there is manifested great confusion of ideas, in regard to the true nature and proper application of the abstract moral principles, upon which such discussions are professedly based. It becomes then a matter of some importance, to separate these abstract principles from the discussions in which they are involved, that we may give them a more full and impartial examination, and to regard the discussions themselves, only so far as they may serve to illustrate the principles we are examining. These remarks seem to us applicable to the popular discussions upon the subject of slavery, with which our land has been filled. We suppose that the great mass of the community, who have reflected upon this subject, may be divided into two classes. One class contends, that when, either by the light of nature or from the express precept or general tenor of Scripture, it is discovered to be wrong in the abstract to hold slaves, it becomes the duty of every slave-holder to act
in accordance with this abstract principle, to emancipate his slaves at once, without regard to the peculiar circumstances of the case, and without inquiry as to the probable consequences which may result from the act, The other class contends, that, although it be admitted to be wrong in the abstract to hold slaves, yet, that, before proceeding to action and actually emancipating those at any particular time and place in bondage, inquiry should be made into the peculiar circumstances of the case and the probable consequences of the act, into the questions, whether those to be liberated are qualified for the possession and enjoyment of liberty, and in what manner they may be set free, so as to secure the best probable consequences to the slaves themselves, to their masters, and to the whole community. It will be perceived, that there is an essential difference between these two classes, as to the standard of duty. They both agree, in regard to the fact, that slavery, in all its bearings, is an evil, and in regard to the abstract principle, that it is wrong to hold slaves. But they differ in regard to the rule of conduct. The one class contends for right in the abstract as the only standard, the sole rule. The other puts in a plea in behalf of expediency, as being, in some cases, worthy of regard, and contends that there may be and often are cases, in which the course to be pursued must be determined by a regard to the circumstances of the cases themselves. The inquiry then which arises in regard to the difference between these two classes, is this. Ought we, or ought we not, to ask in regard to our conduct the question of expediency? This we conceive to be, in an eminent degree, a practical inquiry, one which must often arise in men's minds in regard to the common every-day transactions of life, as well as in regard to all the public and benevolent operations of the day. It is also a question, as we believe, in regard to which it is important that we have clear and correct views. We wish therefore, in the remarks we are about to offer, to invite the attention of our readers to the consideration of this highly important and eminently practical question, the question whether we are to regard right in the abstract as the only unbending rule of duty, or are to permit its decisions to be modified in certain cases by a regard to expediency, to the peculiar circumstances of the case and the probable consequences of the act.
The more carefully this question is divested of every thing which may cause confusion of ideas, the better prepared shall
we be for an impartial examination and correct decision. We remark then, in the first place, that it is not a question between duty on the one hand and expediency on the other. For all admit that, when we have once discovered the course of duty, there is no further question to be asked. It matters not at this point of the inquiry, whether the course may seem to us to be expedient, or may bid fair to be pleasant, or may promise to be advantageous. If we are satisfied that it is the course of duty, we must go resolutely forward in its performance, or be guilty of sin in its neglect.
This the advocate for expediency admits as freely and as fully as his opponent. We are the more particular to state this distinctly, and at the outset of our remarks, because it is a point in regard to which there seems to be much confusion in the minds of many. We have again and again, when querying with our fellow men in regard to the expediency of some proposed course, been cut short with the remark, "that with considerations of this character, with the question of expediency we have nothing to do: when we have once discovered the path of duty, our only course is to press resolutely onwards regardless of consequences." True, we answer, we agree with you in this; but, in cases where we are not guided by express revelation, we ask, May not the expediency of the action, its utility, its accordance with the fitness of things, or, in other words, with our natures and our relations, the circumstances of the case and the probable consequences of the act, may not these be considerations which it is important to take into account in order to determine what is duty? This is the rank we give to all questions of this character. We do not believe that expediency, utility, or an agreeableness with the fitness of things constitutes either the foundation or the rule of duty. We regard the will of God, not only as the sole rule, but as the sole foundation of all duty. But, while we reject the systems of moral philosophy founded upon these different views, we do believe and would contend that expediency, utility, the circumstances of the case and the probable consequences of the act, are considerations important to be taken into account, in order to ascertain, in the absence of direct revelation, what is the will of God.
From these remarks it will be perceived that this question does not relate to the ultimate foundation of duty. For all, whether interested in this discussion or not, admit that the ulti
mate foundation of all duty is the will of God. We have said,
Still further, the question at issue does not relate to the only, nor yet to the best, way of ascertaining the will of God. All admit that the will of God may be made known in various ways. All admit that in regard to many points his will has been made known, expressly revealed through a long succession of prophets, and lastly and more fully by his son Christ Jesus. And all admit too, that where revelation speaks directly in
regard to any course, either by express command or by direct prohibition of the contrary course, we have no further question to ask as to what is the will of God. Let it be borne in mind in this discussion that direct revelation, wherever given, makes known the will of God, that the will of God, whenever known, determines the course of duty, and that the course of duty, once determined, closes the subject against all questions of expediency.
Finally, the question at issue does not relate to general principles of conduct, but to specific acts of duty. It is not, whether, in studying the general principles of conduct, we are to seek for right in the abstract. The correctness and importance of this course all admit. It is whether, in any specific act, we are to be governed by a single regard to what we have discovered to be right in the abstract, or are to take into consideration, in connexion with and serving to modify this, the peculiar circumstances of our situation and the probable consequences of our conduct.
We have thus endeavoured to free the question from others nearly related to it and often confounded with it. We come now to the question itself. And here we may remark, first, that, in regard to specific duties, the phrase right in the abstract, or the more popular phrase used to express the same thing, the eternal and unchangeable principles of rectitude, conveys to our mind no definite idea. We know not how to apply it to specific duties. It seems to us a fiction of the brain, or a mere generalization made for convenience, having no real, positive existence among living and moving and acting men, men sustaining a great variety of ever-varying relations; men of every possible shade of difference in mental capacity and moral susceptibility, in talent and temperament; men, the circumstances of whose existence and the grounds of whose duty are continually changing. We may indeed picture to ourselves a certain course of conduct, which we should regard as right in the abstract. But, when this is done, what has been the real basis of our conclusion? Have we not in our imagination pictured to ourselves some supposed circumstances in which this course of conduct is to be pursued? And do not these supposed circumstances, including, as they do, the talents, temperament, relations, and situation, constitute the grounds of the peculiarity of our conclusion, or, in other words, render our conclusion precisely what it is? We may not be conscious that we are reasoning from VOL. XXII.-3D S. VOL. IV. NO. I.