صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

the fairest chance of being brought to perfection, in which there is opportunity of making the most experiments and trials, and in which there are the greatest number and variety of persons employed in making them. History and experience show, that, cæteris paribus, those arts have always, in fact, been brought the fooneft, or the neareft to perfection, which have been placed in those favourable circumstances. The reason is, that the operations of the human mind are slow, a number of false hypotheses and conclusions always lead to the right one; and in every art, manual or liberal, a number of awkward attempts are made, be: fore we are able to execute any thing which will bear to be shown as a master-piece in the art; so that to establish the methods and processes of any art, before it have arrived to a state of perfection (of which no man can be a judge) is to fix it in its infancy, to perpetuate every thing that is inconvenient and awkward adhering to it, and to cut off its future growth and improvement,'. So To fhew this scheme of an established method of education in a clearer point of light, let us imagine, says Dr. Priestly, that what is now proposed had been carried into execution some cen. turies ago. For no reason can be afsigned for fixing any mode of education at present, which might not have been made use of, with the same appearance of reason, for fixing another approved method a thousand years ago. Suppose Alfred, when he founded the university of Oxford, had made it impossible, that the method of instruction used in his time could ever have been altered. Excellent as that method might have been, for the time in which it was instituted, it would now have been the worst method that is practifed in the world, Suppose the number of the arts and fciences, with the manner of teaching them, had been fixed in this kingdom, before the revival of letters and of the arts, it is plain they could never have arrived at their prefent advanced ftate among us. We fhould not have had the honour to lead the way in the most noble discoveries, in the mathematics, philofophy, astronomy, and I may add divinity to. And for the fame reason, were such an establishment to take place in the present age, it would prevent all great improvements in futurity.'

With refpect to the fecond point, our Author observes, that the great object of civil society is the happiness of the members of it, in the perfect and undisturbed enjoyment of the more important of their natural rights; for the fake of which, we voluntarily give up others of less, consequence to us. But, says he, whatever be the blessings of civil society, they may be bought too dear. It is certainly possible to sacrifice too much, at least more than is neceíTary to be facrificed for them, in order to produce the greatest sum of happiness in the community. Else why do we complain of tyrannical and oppressive governments ? Is it

not not the meaning of all complaints of this kind, that, in such governments, the fubjects are deprived of their molt important natural rights, without an equivalent recompenfe; that all the valuable ends of civil government might be effectually secured, and the members of particular states be much happier upon the whole, if they did not lie under those restrictions

• Now, of all the sources of happiness and enjoyment in human life, the domestic relations are the most constant and copious. With our wives and children we necessarily pass the greatest part of our lives. The connections of friendfhip are flight in comparison of this intimate domestic union Views of interest or ambition may divide the nearest friends, but our wives and children are, in general, inseparably connected with us, and attached to us : with them all our joys are doubled, and in their affection and affiduity we find consolation under all the troubles and disquietudes of life. For the enjoyments which refult from this most delightful intercourse, all mankind, in all ages, have been ready to facrifice every thing; and for the interruption of this intercourfe no compensation whatever can be made by man. What then can be more justly alarming to a man who has a true taste for happiness, than, either that the choice of his wife, or the education of his children fhould be under the direction of persons who had no particular knowlege of him, or particular affection for him, and whose views and maxime he might utterly dislike? What profpect of happiness could a man have with such a wife, or fuch children?

It is possible, indeed, that the preservation of some civil rocieties, such as that of Sparta, may require this facrifice; but that civil society must be wretchedly constituted to stand in need of it, and had beiter be utterly dissolved.' .

In discussing the third article, our Author joins with Dr. Brown, in his encomiums on the British constitution, when it is compared with that of any other in the world. But, though he thinks it the best actual scheme of civil polity, he conceives there are many imperfections in it, and would be sorry to see them made perpetual.

• Dr. Brown, says he, will urge me with the authority of Plutarch, who largely extols the regulations of Egypt and of Sparta, and censures the Roman legislators for adopting nothing fimilar to them, But I beg leave to appeal from the authority of Plutarch, and of all the ancients, as by no means competent judges in this case. Imperfect as the science of government is at present, it is certainly much more perfect than it was in their time; else, the world has grown fo mạch older to little purpofe. On the authority of the ancients, Dr. Brown night as well contend for another institution of the famed Egyptians ; riz, their obliging all perfons to follow the occupations of their

fathers,

6 obligine another of the unto

fathers, and perhaps this might be no bad auxiliary to his pred fcribed mode of education, and prevent the springing up of facé tion in a state. It would likewise favour another object which the Doctor has professedly in view, viz. checking the growth of commerce.

• Supposing this wise system of perpetuation had occurred to our ancestors in the feudal times, and that an assembly of old English Barons, with their heads full of their feudal rights and services, had imitated the wise Spartans, and perpetuated the severe fcudal institutions; what would England at this day have been (with the unrivalled reputation of uniformity and constancy in its laws) but the most barbarous, the weakest, and most distracted ftate in Europe? It is plain from fact, that divine providence had greater things in view, in favour of these kingdoms, and has been conducting them through a series of gradual changes (arising from internal and external caufes ) which have brought us to our present happy condition, and which, if suffered to go on, will probably carry us to a pitch of happiness of which we can yet form no conception. . Had the religious system of our oldest forefathers been esta. blished on these wise and perpetual foundations, we had now been pagans, and our priests druids. Had our Saxon conquerors been endowed with the same wisdom and foresight, we had been worshipping Thor, and Woden ; and had our ancestors three centuries ago catched this spirit, we had been blind and priesta ridden papists.'

There are some things in civil society, indeed, which our Author adınits, require in their own nature to be established, or fixed for a considerable time; but these should be rendered as few and small as possible: it being an universal maxim, that the more liberty is given to every thing which is in a state of growth, the more perfect it will become. Dr. Priestley does not pretend to define what degree of establishment is necessary for religion; but thinks it very clear that education requires none. For our part, however, we conceive that the affair of religion is so momentous, and so intimately connected with the business of education, that our Author should have been a little more explicit on this head. For if education requires no establishment at all, we do not conceive how religion can require any. Dr. Priestley, indeed, goes fo far, in another part of his work, as to allert pofitively, that though“ political principles may require penal lanctions, religious and moral principles require none.' How ! Is it a matter of indifference what immoral principles are propagated in society? It is true, we readily admit with him, that, in regard to religious and speculative principles, the connection and gradation of opinions are such, that, if once we admit there are some which ought to be guarded by civil penalties, it will be

eves

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

cyer impoffible to distinguish, to general satisfaction, between those which may be tolerated, and those which may not. But we imagine, on the other hand, that with regard to moral principles in general, people of different sects and persuasions are pretty well agreed. We are no less zealous than Dr. Priestley for freedom of thinking ; but cannot help, at the same time, making a wide distinction between a liberty of speculation, and a liberty of reducing speculative principles to practical. Of what consequence would be the systems of faith, or the religious opinions of any man, to society, if they did not affect his moral sentiments or motives of action ? And, whatever may be thought in general to the contrary, the connection between religion and morals is by no means so close and intimate as is imagined. Common experience affords us instances of individuals, and his tory of whole nations, differing very widely in regard to the one, and agreeing very nearly with respect to the other. This confideration should make a greater distinction than is usually made by political writers, between religion and morals: it should also have its weight with those who think it needful to lay a restraint on free enquiry. As to our Author, he confesses he thinks it would be far better policy to remove the difficulties which lie in the way of free-enquiry, than throw fresh ones into it. • Infidels, says he, would then be deprived of their most successful method of attacking Christianity, namely, insinuation; and Christian divines might, with a more manly grace, engage with champions of deism; and, in fact, engage with more advantage, when they both fought on the same equal ground. As things are at present, I should be ashamed to fight under the shelter of the civil power, while I saw my adversary exposed to all the severity of it.' It must be confeffed, that all this has the appearance of courage and generosity; but is it not a kind of bravado, intimating that the champion is induced to fight more for his own honour than for the cause he espouses? There is some kind of inconsistency also in fuppofing that a person would be engaged to more adyantage, if his hands were untied and at liberty, than if they were tied behind him. But the truth is, all these pompous pretensions of giving fair play to the adversary, are for the most part mere parade. Dr. Brown and Bishop Warburton have made equal offers of this kind; and have extolled the liberty of the press in such extravagant terms, that their opponents could not possibly forbear thinking themselves laughed at. Our Author hath very justly exposed these pretended advocates for the privilege of thinking ; quoting a pasTage or two from Dr. Warburton's famous address to the deitts ; on which he leaves Peter Annet (if he dare) to write a comment. “So far, says Dr. Priestley, are Deifts from having free liberty to publish their sentiments, that even many Christians cannot speak out with.

safety.

fafety. In present circumstances, à Christian divine is not af liberty to make use of those arguments which, he may think, would supply the best defence of Christianity. What are with many the very foundations of our faith are in a ruinous condition, and must be repaired before it will be to any purpose to beautify and adorn the superstructure ; but the man who should have the true courage and judgment to go near enough to such totten foundations would be thought to mean nothing less than to undermine them, and entirely destroy the whole fabric. His very brethren would ftand off from him, and think him in league with their adversaries; and, by an ill-judging zeal, might call in the help of the ill-directed civil power to stop his hand. In consequence of which, notwithstanding his most laudable zeal in favour of : our holy religion, he might stand upon the same pillory, and be thrown into the same prison with poor and harmless infidels. · The harmless infidels, however, are not the only set of people that seem to have recommended themselves to our Christian champion. In the following paffage he endeavours to do juftice to the tolerating principles of a very respectable fect of protestant difsenters : : :

• To the honour of the Quakers be it spoken, that they are the only body of Christians 'who have uniformly maintained the principles of Christian liberty, and toleration. Every other body of men have turned persecutors when they had power. Papists have perfecuted the Protestants, the Church of England has persecuted the Disfenters; and the Diffenters, in losing their name, loft ihat spirit of Christian charity, which seemed to be essential 'to them; short was their fun-fhine of power, and thankful may Britain, and the present diffenters be, that it was so. But the Quakers, though established in Pensylvania, have perfecuted none. This glorious principle seems fo intimately connected with the fundamental maxims of their feet, that it may be fairly prefumed, the moderation they have hitherto shown is not to be ascribed to the smallness of their party, or to their fear of reprisals. For this reason, if I were to pray for the general prevalence of any one fect of Christians (which I should not think it for the intereff of Christianity to take place, even though I fhould settle the articles of it myself) it should be that of the Quakers ; because, different as my opinions are from theirs, I have so much confidence in their moderation, that I believe they would let me live, write, and publish what I pleased unmolested among them. And this I own, is more than I could promise myself from any other body of Christians whatever; the Presbyterians, perhaps, least of all excepted.'. . . .

Our Author fays, it is unquestionable, that there are more atheists and infidels of all kinds in Spain and Italy, where reli

« السابقةمتابعة »