صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

deserves our notice also, that we are in much greater danger of terminating in this, if the different meanings of the same word have some affinity to one another, than if they have none. In the latter case, when there is no affinity, the transition from one meaning to another, is taking a very wide step, and what few writers are in any danger of; it is, besides, what will not so readily escape the observation of the reader. So much for the second cause of deception, which is the chief source of all the nonsense of writers on politics and criticism.

The third and last, and I may add, the principal species of composition, wherein we are exposed to this illusion by the abuse of words, is that in which the terms employed are very abstract, and consequently of very extensive signification. It is an observation that plainly ariseth from the nature and structure of language, and may be deduced as a corollary from what hath been said of the use artificial signs, that the more general any name is, as it com prebends the more individuals under it, and consequently requires the more extensive knowledge in the mind that would rightly apprehend it, the more it must have of indistinctness and obscurity. Thus the word lion is more distinctly apprehended by the mind than the word beast, beast than animal, animal than being. But there is, in what are called abstract subjects, a still greater fund of obscurity, than that arising from the frequent mention of the most general terms. Names must be assigned to those qualities as considered abstractly, which never subsist independently, or by themselves, but which constitute the generic characters and the specific differences of things. And this leads to a manner which is in many instances remote from the common use of speech, and therefore must be of more difficult conception. The qualities thus considered as in a state of separation from the subjects to which they belong, have been not unfitly compared by a famous wit of the last century, to disembodied spirits :

He could reduce all things to acts.
And knew their natures and abstracts ;

Where entity and quiddity

The ghosts of defunct bodies fly". As the manes of the departed heroes which Æneas saw in the infernal regions, were so constituted as effectually to elude the embrace of every living wight; in like manner the abstract qualities are so subtile as often to elude the apprehension of the most attentive mind. They have, I may say, too much volatility to be arrested, were it but for a moment.

The fitting shadow slips away,
Like winds or empty dreams that fly the day +

DRYDEX. It is no wonder then, that a misapplication of such words, whether general or abstract, should frequently escape our notice. The more general any word is in its signification, it is the more liable to be abused by an improper or unmeaning application. A foreigner will escape discovery in a crowd, who would instantly be distinguished in a select company. A very general term is applicable alike to a multitude of different individuals, a particular term is applicable but to a few. When the rightful applications of a word are extremely numerous, they cannot all be so strongly fixed by habit, but that, for greater security, we must perpetually recur in our minds from the sign to the notion we have of the thing signified ; and for the reason aforementioned, it is in such instances difficult precisely to ascertain this notion. Thus the latitude of a word, though different from its ambiguity, hath often a similar effect.

Further, it is a certain fact, that when we are much accustomed to particular terms, we can scarcely avoid fancying that we understand them, whether they have a meaning or not. The reason of this apprehension might easily be deduced from what hath been already said of the nature of signs. Let it suffice at present to observe the fact. Now, on ordinary subjects, if we adopt such

• Hudibras, B. i. C. 1.

- Ter comprensa manus effugit imago, Par levibus ventis, volucrique simillima somno.

ENEIS, 1. 6.

a wrong opinion, we may easily be undeceived. The reason is, that on such subjects, the recourse from the sign to the thing signified is easy. For the opposite reason, if we are in such an error on abstract subjects, it is next to impossible that ever we should be undeceived. Hence it is, if without offence I may be indulged the observation, that in some popular systems of religion, the zeal of the people is principally exerted in support of certain favourite phrases, and a kind of technical and idiomatical dialect to which their ears have been long enured, and which they consequently imagine they understand, but in which often there is nothing to be understood.

From such causes it hath arisen, that ever since the earliest days of philosophy, abstract subjects have been the principal province of altercation and logomachy; to the support of which, how far the artificial dialectic of the schoolmen, nay, the analytics and the metaphysics, the categories and the topics of the justly admired Stagyrite, have contributed, we have considered already *. Indeed at length disputation in the schools came to be so much a mechanical exercise, that if once a man had learned his logic, and had thereby come to understand the use of his weapons, and had gotten the knack of wielding them, he was qualified, without any other kind of knowledge, to defend any position whatsoever, how contradictory soever to common sense, and to the clearest discoveries of reason and experience. This art, it must be owned, observed a wonderful impartiality in regard to truth and error, or rather the most absolute indifference to both. If it was oftener employed in de fence of error, that is not to be wondered at ; for the way of truth is one, the ways of error are infinite. One qualified in the manner above mentioned could as successfully dispute on a subject of which he was totally ignorant, as on one with which he was perfectly acquainted. Success indeed tended then no more to decide the question, than a man's killing his antagonist in a duel serves now to satisfy any person of sense, that the

• Book I. Chap vi.

victor bad right on his side, and that the vanquished was in the wrong. Such an art as this could at bottom be no other, than a mere playing with words, used indeed grammatically, according to certain rules established in the schools, but quite insignificant, and therefore incapable of conveying knowledge.

Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy. This logic, between two and three centuries ago, received a considerable improvement from one Raimund Lully, a native of Majorca, who, by the ingenious contrivance of a few concentric moveable circles ; on the borders of some of which were inscribed the subjects, of others the predicaments, and of others the forms of questions, not only superseded the little in point of invention which the scholastic logic had till then required, but much accelerated the operations of the artist. All was done by manual labour. All the circles, except the outmost wbich was immoveable, were turned upon the common center, one after another. In this manner the disposition of subjects, predicaments, and questions, was perpetually varied. All the proper questions on every subject were suggested, and pertinent answers supplied. In the same way did the working of the engine discover and apply the several topics of argument that might be used in support of any question. On this rare device, one Athanasius Kircher made great improvements in the last century. He boasted that by means of a coffer of arts, divided into a number of small receptacles, entirely of his own contriving, a thousand prodigies might be performed, which either could not be affected at all, by Lully's magical circles, or at least not so expeditiously,

Nothing can more fully prove, that the fruit of all such contrivances was mere words without knowledge, an empty show of science without the reality, than the ostentatious and absurd way in which the inventors and their votaries talk of these inventions. They would have us believe, that in these is contained a complete ency. clopædia, that here we may discover all the arts and sciences as in their source, that hence all of them may be

[ocr errors]

deduced a priori, as from their principles. Accordingly they treat all those as no better than quacks and empirics who have recourse to so homely a tutoress as experience.

The consideration of their pretensions hath indeed satisfied me, that the ridicule thrown on projectors of this kind, in the account given by Swift * of a professor in the academy of Lagado, is not excessive, as I once thought it. The boasts of the academist on the prodigies performed by his frame, are far less extravagant than those of the above-mentioned artists, which in truth they very much resemble f.

• Gulliver's Travels, Part iii.

+ At what an amazing pitch of perfection doth Knittelius, a great admirer both of Lully and of Kircher, suppose that the adepts in this literary handicraft may arrive. The assiduous and careful practice will at length, according to him, fully instruct us, “ Quomodo de quacunque re proposita statim librum concipere, " et in capita dividere, de quacunque re ex tempore disserere, argumentari, de “ quocunque themate orationem formare, orationem mentalem per horam, “ dies et septimanast protrahere, rem quamcunque describere, per apologas " et fabulas proponere, emblemata, et hieroglyphica in venire dequacunque “ re historias expedite scribere, adversaria de quacunque refacere, de qua

cunque materia consilia dare, omnes argutias ad unam regulam reducere, " assumptum thema in infinitum multiplicare, ex falso rem demonstrare, " quidlibet per quidlibet probare, possimus.". Quirinus Kuhlmannus, another philosopher of the last century, in a letter to Kircher hath said with much good sense, concerning his coffer, “ Lusus est ingeniosus ingeniose Kirchere, non methodus, “ prima fronte aliquid promittens, in recessu nihil solvens. Sine cista enim puer nihil “ potest respondere, et in cista nihil præter verba habet ; tot profert quot audit, sine “* intellectu, adinstar psittaci ; et de illo jure dicitur quod Lacon de philomela, “ Voz est, prætereaque nihil." Could any body imagine, that one who thought so justly of Kircher's device, was himself the author of another of the same kind. He

had, it seems, contrived a scientific machine, that moved by wheels, with the conception of which he pretended to have been inspired by Heaven, but unfortunately he did not live to publish it. His only view, therefore, in the words abovequoted, was to depreciate Kircher's engine, that he might the more effectually recommend his own. “ Multa passiin," says Morhoff concerning him (Polyhistor. vol. I. lib. ii. cap. 5. “ de rotis suis combinatoriis jactat, quibus ordinatis unus “ homo millies mille, imo millies millies mille scribas vincat ; qui tamen primarius “ rotarum scopus non est, sed grandior longe restat : nempe notitia providentiæ " æternæ, orbisque terrarum motus.” And again, " Nec ullus hominum tam

insulso judicio præditus est, qui hac institutione libros doctos, novos, utiles, “omni rerum scientia plenos, levissima opera edere non potest.” How much more modest is the professor of Lagado : : * fe flatters himself indeed, that a " more noble exalted thought than his never sprang in any other man's head,” but doth not lay claim to inspiration." Every one knows," he adds, “ how labori"ous the usual method is of attaining to arts and sciences: whereas, by his con"trivance, the most ignorant person, at a reasonable charge, and with a little " bodily labour, may write books in philosophy, poetry, politics, law, mathema" tics, and theology," (no mention of history) “ without the least assistance from “ genius and study." He is still modest enough to require time, and some corporeal exercise, in order to the composing of a treatise ) but those artists propose " to bring a proficient statim librum concipere" instantly, " levissima opera, with little or no pains. I shall conclude with laying before the reader, tne opinion of Lord Verulam, concerning the Lullian art, an opinion that may with

« السابقةمتابعة »