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to them, the work of man's perfectibility is in his own hands: he has the materials and means within himself of his own spiritual exaltation; whether it be destiny or divinity, or what else they say not; but a seminal something inherent in our nature, waiting only to be developed by human cultivation.
In some of the expositions of Pestalozzi's system of education, amidst much good, is found much of the quackery and cabalism of these German ethics. It is one of the vehicles for the nostrums of that empyrical shop, whose opiates make our heads swim with the dignity of human nature. In what recess of the mind the new philosophy has found the "vie interieure," the "sens interieur," and the comfortable truth" que l'homme est bon par nature," he only can tell who is able to follow these sage explorers of our moral constitution in their development of these "primitive dispositions." They have sunk their shafts too low for ordinary intellect to venture: they are to be distrusted as much as the other mining speculations of the day. Unable, even with the help of these gentlemen, to settle whether "on fait le bien par instinct ou par besoin," we turn to the humbling doctrines of the faith of our ancestors, and make the best of our way out of the circuit
of an enthusiastic morality, within which every sciolist may take his seat and deliver his lectures. Turning a deaf ear to this authoritative announcement of the dignity of our nature, this vocation to the proper use of our constitutional resources and native capacities, let us repair to that Gospel which, while it places before us our own pravity and perversity, gives us a "commandment which is exceeding broad," and offers "a lantern to our feet and a light to our paths."
It is to be lamented that Madame de Stael has afforded the aid of her powerful and prevailing talents towards exalting an unmeaning enthusiasm into the place of religion; an enthusiasm which, however pure in its elements, terminates by a natural proclivity of the heart in sentimental profligacy. The consequence of this enthusiasm has, of late years, much increased throughout the moral and intellectual world. Whence this principle, so specious and so false, may have derived its birth it would be tedious to inquire; but we may affirm that in Germany it has been most active and influencing. It has grown with the literature of that country, which has been remarkably adapted to give it operation and expansion ;-that people had advanced far in their intellectual career, before they could be
said to possess a literature of their own. A strong determination of the intellect towards philosophy, and particularly the abstract and metaphysical, was always a distinguishing feature of their character. An infant literature is very impressible; and when poetry and polite learning began in Germany to be the objects of home cultivation, they were mixed with the refinements of a philosophy which had become mistress of the mind of this ardent people. A wilderness of anomalous thoughts and roving fancies caught and fixed in wonder the first glances of their infant poesy. And the most impassioned species of composition, the drama, soon reflected the taste of the nation in scenes of moral extravagance, mystical invention, undisciplined impulses, and all the intricacies and excesses of sentimental sensuality.
Thus Germany, if not the source, has been the great patron and promulgator of an order of ideas, loosened and at large from the control of testimony and authority, and only to be called an order or class, as meeting, under all their varieties, in the one common and fatal folly of looking within ourselves, and into the constitution of things, for the principles of our belief and practice. Sentiment, detached from its proper basis, has become a servile minister of the pas
sions, giving a deceptious interest to the mischievous aberrations of the heart and the propensities of mere animal nature. Nothing better than this unhallowed product can come of an education, of which real scriptural religion does not constitute the prevailing ingredient; no system of education can prosper which leaves out that which is the great and proper business of man. A principle of culture is proposed to us which has no reference to the end for which we were born: its maxims and dogmas are flux and evanescent, like the particles, whatever they are, which carry abroad the virus of disease. Down from the lofty, but unsound reveries of Madame de Stael, through all the deepening grades of German story, domestic or dramatic, to the pestilent pen of that unhappy lord, whose genius has thrown lasting reproach upon the literature of his country; through every disguise and every modification, the lurking disease betrays itself, amidst paint and perfumes, by the invincible scent of its native quarry. |
THE MECHANIC PHILOSOPHY.
So much for the religion of the heart, and the metaphysics of sentiment, of which the principal doctors are of the German school, from which our Christian householder should be warned to insulate his family. But it is the fate of religion to be placed in the midst of dangers. She is only safe in her own element-humility; out of this peaceful harbour she becomes the sport of winds. She is in danger on the side of abstraction; she is in danger on the side of induction. At the present time, and in our own country, she is in some danger from the progress of the physical sciences, and a strong determination towards inquiries, experimental and material. The ideal philosophy, it is true, is well exchanged for a more substantial and experimental course of inquiry; but scepticism may germinate upon either of these stocks. Contraries are seldom good correctives of each other; they are apt to coalesce in a common extravagance: they may be "reconciled in ruin." We have reason to be afraid of a mechanical philosophy pushed to excess, as it now seems to be by some of our