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a Prize Ossay,
THE THEATRE, OXFORD,
June 15, 1803.
Σοφίαν δε και σωφροσύνην ου διώριζεν.
ΞΕΝΟΦ. ΑΠΟΜΝ. lib. iii. cap. 9. 4.
The powers of the human mind have ever been a subject of the most interesting research. They continually supply new points of inquiry, and soon introduce us, when deeply pursued, into a boundless range of fascinating speculation. What is solidly important, however, is least encumbered with difficulty; and the subject which is now to be considered cannot fail of proving a source of various instruction.
Common Sense is sometimes defined to be that
power of the mind by which ideas are received and compared: but it is usually considered as the ordinary judgment of mankind implanted by the Creator, and capable of perceiving truth, when presented to it, by simple intuition. In proportion as the mind can bring at once under its review a larger number of ideas, and determine on their accordance or disagreement, is the strength of this faculty. Its appearances and operations may be improved by culture, and by a union in the same mind of more exalted talents.
Its influence is wide and important. Ex tending its sway over all the transactions of life, it claims a rank from the frequency, if not from the splendour, of its effects, of no trifling elevation. The multitudes who in every state subsist by personal labour are indebted to it for all the limited attainments which their situations require. The commercial branches of society derive equal benefits from its exercise: it guides their endeavours, directs their enterprises, and secures their success. Its influence reaches even to the highest orders of the community; for no rank of men can be at liberty to neglect its dictates, so far as they are the rules of domestic propriety. Indeed, by a conformity to the guidance of Common Sense, the great body of mankind, without talents of any brilliancy or extent, pass through life with reputation, and meet its duties with sufficient exactness. It is essential therefore to the happiness of society, and though it does not, when alone, often lead to celebrity, at the least it rescues men from insignificance, and secures to them the most solid benefits.
It will be found, indeed, that the most weighty concerns of life are not so frequently at the disposal of genius and imagination, as of the plain maxims of an ordinary judgment. The more splendid faculties of the mind may by their rapid associations surprise and enchant
us; they may challenge our applause, and arrest for the moment every interfering claim: but we regulate our conduct by a more sober guide. The luxuriance of genius is corrected, the fervours of the imagination are suffered to cool; and we adopt, not our hasty discoveries, but the result of temperate examination. Nor is this wonderful. If the ordinary operations of life depended for their efficacy on the decision of superior faculties, the most important, as well as the most numerous, transactions of the world must fail. It is therefore a happy constitution, that, while the lighter and less momentous divisions of the elegant arts are the province of genius, the extensive and unbounded range of ordinary affairs is under the dominion of a common, though inferior talent.
That this representation is accurate will be manifest, if we recollect the fatal mischiefs which the absence of Common Sense has uniformly occasioned. When ignorance, or fear, or an imagination unduly excited, have for a season suspended its influence, characters, at other times the most collected, have acted with manifest absur: dity. What is there so irrational, which men of the first general talents have not adopted, when, under the irritation of favourite theories, they have neglected the dictates of a sober judgment? What schemes have not been proposed ? What measures not adopted? What hopes not en