Obrázky stránek

cession to the theory of the Human Mind. On the contrary, I do not hesitate to consider them as the richest contribution of well-observed and well-described facts, which was ever bequeathed to this branch of science by a single individual ; and as the indisputable (though not always acknowledged) source of some of the most refined conclusions, with respect to the intellectual phenomena, which have been since brought to light by succeeding inquirers.

After the details given by Locke himself, of the circumstances in which his Essay was begun and completed; more especially, after what he has stated of the “discontinued way of writing," imposed on him by the avocations of a busy and unsettled life, it cannot be thought surprising, that so very little of method should appear in the disposition of his materials; or that the opinions which, on different occasions, he has pronounced on the same subject, should not always seem perfectly steady and consistent. In these last cases, however, I am inclined to think that the inconsistencies, if duly reflected on, would be found rather apparent than real. It is but seldom, that a writer possessed of the powerful and upright mind of Locke, can reasonably be suspected of stating propositions in direct contradiction to each other. The presumption is, that, in each of these propositions, there is a mixture of truth, and that the error lies chiefly in the unqualified manner in which the truth is stated; proper allowances not being made, during the fervor of composition, for the partial survey taken of the objects from a particular point of view. Perhaps it would not be going too far to assert, that most of the seeming contradictions which occur in authors animated with a sincere love of truth, might be fairly accounted for by the different aspects which the same object presented to them upon different occasions. In reading such authors, accordingly, when we meet with discordant expressions, instead of indulging ourselves in the captiousness of verbal criticism, it would better become us carefully and candidly to collate the questionable passages ; and to study so to reconcile them by judicious modifications and corrections, as to render the oversights and mistakes of our illustrious guides subservient to the precision and soundness of our own conclusions. In the case of Locke, it must be owned, that this is not always an easy task, as the limitations of some of his most exceptionable propositions are to be collected, not from the context, but from different and widely separated parts of his Essay. *

In a work thus composed by snatches (to borrow a phrase of the author's), it was not to be expected, that he should be able accurately to draw the line between his own ideas, and the hints for which he was indebted to others. To those who are well acquainted with his speculations, it must appear evident, that he had studied diligently the metaphysical writings both of Hobbes and of Gassendi; and that he was no stranger to the Essays of Montaigne, to the philosophical works of Bacon, or to Malebranche's Inquiry after Truth. That he was familiarly conversant with the Cartesian system may be presumed from what we are told by his biographer, that it was this which first inspired him with a disgust at the jargon of the schools, and led him into that train of thinking which he afterwards prosecuted so successfully. I do not, however, recollect that he has anywhere in his Essay mentioned the name of any one of these authors. It is probable, that, when he sat down to write, he found the result of his youthful reading so completely identified with the fruits of his subsequent reflections, that it was impossible for him to attempt a separation of the one from

* That Locke himself was sensible that some of his expressions required explanation, and was anxious that his opinions should be judged of rather from the general tone and spirit of his work, than from detached and isolated propositions, may be inferred from a passage in one of his notes, where he replies to the animadversions of one of his antagonists (the Reverend Mr. Lowde), who had accused him of calling in question the immutability of moral distinction. · But,” says Locke, “ the good man does well, and as becomes his calling, to be watchful in such points, and to take the alarm, even at expressions, which, standing alone by themselves, might sound ill, and be suspected.” (Locke's Works, Vol. II. p. 93, note.)

| Mr. Addison has remarked, that Malebranche had the start of Locke, by several years, in his notions on the sulvject of Duration. (Spectator, No. 91.) Some other coincidences, not less remarkable, might be easily pointed out in the opinions of the English and of the French philosopher.

| The name of Hobbes occurs in Mr. Locke's Reply to the Bishop of Worcester, See the Notes on his Essay, b. iv. c. 3. It is curious that he classes Hobbes and Spinoza together, as writers of the same stamp; and that he disclaims any intimate acquaintance with the works of either. “I am not so well read in Hobbes and Spinoza as to be able to say what were their opinions in this matter, but possibly there be those who think your Lordship’s authority of more use than those justly decried Daines,” &c. &c.

[ocr errors]

the other; and that he was thus occasionally led to mistake the treasures of memory for those of invention. That this was really the case, may be farther presumed from the peculiar and original cast of his phraseology, which, though in general careless and unpolished, has always the merit of that characteristical unity and raciness of style, which demonstrates, that, while he was writing, he conceived himself to be drawing only from his own resources.

With respect to his style, it may be further observed, that it resembles that of a well educated and well informed man of the world, rather than of a recluse student who had made an object of the art of composition. It every where abounds with colloquial expressions, which he had probably caught by the ear from those whom he considered as models of good conversation; and hence, though it seems somewhat antiquated, and not altogether suited to the dignity of the subject, it may be presumed to have contributed its share towards his great object of turning the thoughts of his contemporaries to logical and metaphysical inquiries. The author of the Characteristics, who will not be accused of an undue partiality for Locke, acknowledges, in strong terms, the favorable reception which his book had met with among the higher classes. “I am not sorry, however,” says Shaftesbury, to one of his correspondents, “ that I lent you Locke's Essay, a book that may as well qualify men for business and the world, as for the sciences and a university. No one has done more towards the recalling of philosophy from barbarity, into use and practice of the world, and into the company of the better and politer sort, who might well be ashamed of it in its other dress. No one has opened a better and clearer way to reasoning.'

In a passage of one of Warburton's letters to Hurd, which I had occasion to quote in the first part of this Dissertation, it is stated as a fact, that, “ when Locke first published his Essay, he had neither followers nor admirers, and hardly a single approver.” I cannot help suspecting very strongly the correctness of this assertion,


* See Shaftesbury's First Letter to a Student at the University.

not only from the flattering terms in which the Essay is mentioned by Shaftesbury in the foregoing quotation, and from the frequent allusions to its doctrines by Addison and other popular writers of the same period, but from the unexampled sale of the book, during the fourteen years which elapsed between its publication and Locke's death. Four editions were printed in the space of ten years, and three others must have appeared in the space of the next four; a reference being made to the sixth edition by the author himself, in the epistle to the reader, prefixed to all the subsequent impressions. A copy of the thirteenth edition, printed as early as 1748, is now lying before me. So rapid and so extensive a circulation of a work, on a subject so little within the reach of common readers, is the best proof of the established popularity of the author's name, and of the respect generally entertained for his talents and his opinions.

That the Essay on Human Understanding should have excited some alarm in the University of Oxford, was no more than the author had reason to expect from his boldness as a philosophical reformer; from his avowed zeal in the cause of liberty, both civil and religious ; from the suspected orthodoxy of his Theological Creed; and (it is but candid to add) from the apparent coincidence of his ethical doctrines with those of Hobbes.* It is more difficult to account for the long continuance, in that illustrious seat of learning, of the prejudice against the logic of Locke (by far the most valuable part of his work), and cf that partiality for the logic of Aristotle, of which Locke has so fully exposed the futility. In the University of Cambridge, on the other hand, the Essay on Human Understanding was, for many years, regarded with a reverence approaching to idolatry: and to the authority of some distinguished persons connected with that learned body may be traced (as will afterwards appear) the origin of the greater part of the extravagancies which, towards

• It was proposed at a meeting of the heads of houses of the University of Oxford, to censure and discourage the reading of Locke's Essay; and after various debates among themselves, it was concluded, that each head of a house should endeavour to prevent its being read in his college, without coming to any public censure.” (See Des Maizeaux's note on a letter from Locke to Collins. Locke's Works, Vol. X. p. 284.)

the close of the last century, were grafted on Locke's errors, by the disciples of Hartley, of Law, of Priestley, of Tooke, and of Darwin.*

To a person who now reads with attention and candor the work in question, it is much more easy to enter into the prejudices which at first opposed themselves to its complete success, than to conceive how it should so soon have acquired its just celebrity. Something, I suspect, must be ascribed to the political importance which Mr. Locke had previously acquired as the champion of religious toleration ; as the great apostle of the Revolution; and as the intrepid opposer of a tyranny which had been recently overthrown.

In Scotland, where the liberal constitution of the universities has been always peculiarly favorable to the diffusion of a free and eclectic spirit of inquiry, the philosophy of Locke seems very early to have struck its roots, deeply and permanently, into a kindly and congenial soil. Nor were the errors of this great man implicitly adopted from a blind reverence for his name. The works of Descartes still continued to be studied and admired ; and the combined systems of the English and the French metaphysicians served, in many respects, to correct what was faulty, and to supply what was deficient, in either. As to the ethical principles of Locke, where they appear to lean towards Hobbism, a powerful antidote against them was already prepared in the Treatise De Jure Belli et Pacis, which was then universally and deservedly regarded in this country as the best introduction that had yet appeared to the study of moral science. If Scotland, at this period, produced no eminent authors in these branches of learning, it was not from want of erudition

I have taken notice, with due praise, in the former part of this discourse, of the metaphysical speculations of John Smith, Henry More, and Ralph Cudworth ; all of them members and ornaments of the university of Cambridge about the middle of the seventeenth century. They were deeply conversant in the Platonic Philosophy, and applied it with great success in combating the Materialists and Necessitarians of their times. They carried, indeed, some of their Platonic notions to an excess bordering on mysticism, and may, perhaps, have contributed to give a bias to some of their academical successors towards the opposite extreme. A very pleasing and interesting account of the characters of these amiable and ingenious men, and of the spirit of their philosophy, is given by Burnet in the History of his Own Times.

To the credit of Smith and of More it may be added, that they were ainong the first in England to perceive and to acknowlege the merits of the Cartesian Metaphysics. VOL. VI.


« PředchozíPokračovat »