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Take the most popular productions of our times, the “Waverly Romances." With all that is admirable and instructive in the sketches of human life and character, what is the moral influence ? Is not everything connected with the hallowed truths of the Bible, and the sacred vocation of the ministers of Christianity, so treated as to excite emotions of the ludicrous ? That such was the design of the illustrious author, we are not prepared to believe. But if the prevailing moral impression from these far-famed volumes is favorable to reverent views of holy things, then we labor under an unfortunate roistake. If we are correct in our judgment in regard to an author, who, in most respects, is so unexceptionable, and whose rare gifts we are not among the last to acknowledge with entire cordiality, what language of condemnation is warranted by the obscenities and blasphemies of some who preceded, and soine who have followed Sir Walter Scott, in the department of fiction? “ If the comedies of Congreve," said Lord Kames, 6 did not rack him with remorse in his last moments, he must have been lost to all sense of virtue.” The remark admits of very extensive application.
Not to dwell longer upon a theme, which is painfully copious, we trust that no one of our readers will question the duty of the critic, in reference to the moral character and tendency of the works which he reviews. And if it be his duty to hold up to public abhorrence every sentiment, which is at variance with a feeling of profound veneration for God, and that religion which has been washed in the blood of Christ crucified, how important is it, that he possess a moral sensibility, a moral taste, keenly alive to every profanation of the beauty of virtue, and the majesty of holiness.
The critic may derive both pleasure and profit from the practice of his art. He may experience a peculiar enjoyment from the discovery of merit which escapes the common eye, A habit of contemplating the innumerable forms of excellence and defect, is naturally suited to generate a spirit of candor, and neutralize or destroy the influence of selfishness and vanity. It is too common for men in early life to suppose that their own reputation for genius and learning, is depending upon their ability to perceive imperfections in the workmanship of others : and when they have found a real or imaginary defect, they proclaim it with high zest, as a triumphant proof of their own pre-eminence. The true spirit of criticism, as we have already intimated, is at war with all such captiousness. The farther we advance in life, the more occasions do we find to regret the rash judgments of previous days. And the older we grow, if we continue to study the works of intellect and taste, without yielding to any untoward influences, the more humble is our estimation of ourselves, and the more candid and generous is our estimation of others.
At the present time, inaccuracy in composition is too prevalent to allow us to say, that
“ Ten censure wrong, for one that writes amiss."
But we must permit every man who has acquired a knowledge of the principles and rules of a just rhetoric, to cherish some confidence in his own critical opinions. If his productions are censured, he is at liberty to withhold his acquiescence, until sound reasons are offered in support of the strictures. But he may often show a noble magnanimity by entire silence, when he would lose much by a sharp reply to animadversions or insinuations. There is neither perfection in literature nor infallibility in criticism. With a respeciful deference to the judgments of others, and a modest regard for ourselves, we may adopt the sentiment of Horace,
“ Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri.”
ARGUMENT FROM NATURE, FOR THE DIVINE EX
ISTÈNCE. Astronomy and General Physics considered with reference to
Natural Theology. By the Rev. William Whewell, M. A. Fellow and Tutor of Trinity College, Cambridge. Philadelphia : Carey, Lea & Blanchard.
With the history of the Bridgewater treatises, of which this is the third, our readers are probably acquainted. Their
design is, to illustrate the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the creation. This has been done with great ability by Mr. Whewell, in the department assigned to him ; but it will be remembered that it is one thing to illustrate the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, supposing his existence to be already proved; and quite another, to prove his existence from such indications as nature exhibits. The difference between a treatise on some branch of natural philosophy or natural history, and one on natural theology, seems to be that in the latter, physical and efficient causes are considered only so far as is necessary to illustrate the final causes or uses of things, and that then these final causes are made premises from which to infer the existence and attributes of God. This is the mode of argument adopted in the work before us.
It is our purpose, before noticing this work, to make some observations on the plan which the argument from design, as exhibited in external nature, holds in producing the belief of a God in mankind at large; and also on the real import and logical validity of that argument.
It by no means follows, because the argument from design is generally stated as the formal proof of the being of a God, that it is therefore the real ground of our belief; for it often happens that we are ourselves fully convinced of a truth, and yet, when we would convince others, we are obliged to adduce arguments, and invent media of proof, entirely different from those on which our own conviction rests. Thus, a man may have such a sense of the excellence of the Scriptures, and of their applicability to his own case, as to be perfectly satisfied on this ground alone, that they are authentic and inspired, and yet, if he would prove this to another, he must resort to arguments entirely distinct from this—he must go to what are called the external evidences.
In the infancy of society, and many nations are yet in their infancy, before science has made her researches, nothing can be more obscure and perplexing than the operations of nature. Design itself is often concealed, is often but obscurely perceived, and unity of design is not perceived at all; and yet we find mankind holding on to their belief in a God, with a strength altogether disproportioned to the clearness with which design can possibly be discovered. If we consider too, the great importance to the race of a belief in A God, and the analogy of nature in regard to the mode in
which essential ideas are furnished, we may perhaps think it probable that this great idea was not intended to be entirely dependent on the varying process of induction from premises without. It may appear probable that religion, to which the idea of God is fundamental, which is afterwards to shoot higher and spread wider in its influence than any other power, should have its roots in the very foundation and elements of the soul of man. It is only on the supposition of something of this kind in the original constitution of man, that the common definition of him as a religious animal can be sustained.
Influenced by these, and similar considerations, several philosophers have asserted that the idea of God is innate ; by which we suppose them to mean, that it is elementary to the human mind, and necessarily arises from the developement of its faculties and in the circumstances in which it is placed. This is certainly the case with a number of primary truths, the proof of which, just in proportion as they are elementary, is at the same time difficult and superfluous. Take for instance that of personal identity. No one doubts this, yet there are few who would not be puzzled to prove it. We may invent arguments concerning it, we may seem to be convinced by them, they may be in fact conclusive, and yet we are in the end no more certain of the thing itself than we were before.
That the idea and belief of a God are in some such relation to us, arising with more or less distinctness from the developement of our faculties, seems probable, as hinted above, from the very general agreement of mankind on this subject. No other instance can be adduced of such general agreement on any subject, the ground of which is to be found in reasoning from premises that are without. Except in mathematical truths, mankind differ in every thing that is derived from deduction, and nothing can be more diverse than their opinions. But in regard to their belief in a God, however different and futile may have been the reasons by which they proved it to themselves, yet they seem, in general, to have been equally certain of the thing; showing that they rather sought arguments for what they believed before on grounds so elementary that they found it difficult to give an account of them, than that their belief was the consequence of their arguments.
If our limits would permit, we should like to enter upon the question of the reality and legitimacy of such an idea. This, however, is not our intention. If we suppose it to exist, it is still desirable to have a form of proof corresponding to that of the external evidence for the Scriptures. It is desirable that we should be able to state distinctly such data as shall be assented to by those who deny the existence or authority of first impressions, to divest our proof of the obscurity, which, to many minds, hangs around our spontaneous and elementary ideas, and to bring the argument within the province of our reflective and logical powers. There is no man who does not find his convictions strengthened, when his original and obscure impressions are thus confirmed by a logical process of the understanding. But if we do not suppose such an elementary belief in a God, then is it doubly important that we should state our argument from other sources in the best manner we may, since it is only from its connection with him that human nature finds either dignity or hope.
An argument, the want of which is thus indicated, is supposed by many to be found in the order and harmony of the external universe. This argument has been adduced from the earliest times, and either from its coinciding with previous opinions, or from its intrinsic weight, has been generally thought conclusive. Still there have always been those who contested its validity. The ground anciently assumed by those who denied the force of this argument, was entirely different from that which is taken in modern times. The mechanism of the heavens was then undisclosed ; nothing comparatively was known of the structure of animals or vegetables, or of the processes by which life is sustained. Nothing was known of chemistry, or electricity, or magnetism, or of the weight of the atmosphere, or of the properties of light. Hypothesis assumed the place of observation, and so long as men endeavored, from preconceived notions, to prescribe the mode in which God ought to act, rather than to observe how he did act, it is clear that the figments of the human imagination must have been taken as the standard and measure of the wisdom of God. Accordingly, the question then was, not whether perfect, or at least extended order and harmony would prove the existence of God, but whether there was such order and harmony in nature. It was the sensible reply of one of the Byzantine emperors, when a priest endeavored to illustrate to him the wisdom of God from the mechanism of the heavens as then understood, that he thought he could